Pritzker Prize for Arata Isozaki

Arata Isozaki is the eighth Japanese architect to win the Pritzker Prize.
Arata Isozaki is the eighth Japanese architect to win the Pritzker Prize.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has been awarded the Pritzker Prize, considered architecture's highest honour, for a lifetime of work that found global resonance while mining local traditions.

The 87-year-old's built works, which number more than 100, range from the Palau Sant Jordi, built in Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics, to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, his first international commission.

His home town of Otai in Japan is a showcase of his early work, including a medical hall and annex, and a prefectural library.

As the prize was announced on Tuesday, the chairman of the jury, United States Justice Stephen Breyer, said of the architect: "Isozaki is a pioneer in understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local - that those two forces are part of a single challenge.

"For many years, he has been trying to make certain that areas of the world that have long traditions in architecture are not limited to that tradition, but help spread those traditions while simultaneously learning from the rest of the world."

Isozaki is the 46th Pritzker laureate and the eighth Japanese architect to receive the honour. Winners get a bronze medallion and US$100,000 (S$135,700). The prize ceremony is in May in Paris.

Isozaki is considered one of the first Japanese architects to have Western styles and influences in his work, and had spent much time in the West travelling and studying.

But his interest in cultural diversity was sparked by the influence of American culture in post-World War II Japan - whose cities had just been devastated by US aerial bombing - when his country was occupied by US troops.

He was intrigued by the contrasting aesthetic codes of the two countries, as he joined a new generation of Japanese architects rebuilding their flattened cities.

With his swept-back grey hair and penchant for Chairman Mao-style shirt collars, the Japanese architect has designed buildings on four continents, from sports venues to office buildings to museums.

His works have built on the philosophy of his mentor Kenzo Tange, a modernist architect whose own works are scattered around the globe and was a Pritzker winner in 1987.

Aside from his cosmopolitan outlook, Isozaki is also known for never confining himself to one set style.

The two main elements of his work - cosmopolitanism and the desire to meld with the environment - found their apotheosis in Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi.

Completed in 1990 as the stage for the Olympic Games' gymnastic events two years later, the domed venue is partially sunken into the summit of the Montjuic hill overlooking Barcelona, so that it appears to be part of the hill itself.

In Japan, his most celebrated works include the Kitakyushu municipal museum of art, built in 1974, and the Kamioka town hall from 1978, which reflect the architect's eclecticism: the former is all straight lines and sharp angles, while the latter is liquidly smooth and curvaceous. Last year, the Pritzker Prize was awarded to 90-year-old Indian Balkrishna Doshi.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'Pritzker Prize for Arata Isozaki'. Print Edition | Subscribe