Arata Isozaki has been one of Japan’s most influential architects for over half a century – a career now recognized with the 2019 Pritzker Prize. His richly varied work has consistently demonstrated new design solutions that draw on the local context of each individual project. Born in 1931, Isozaki graduated from the university of Tokyo in 1954, and began his career under the tutelage of Kenzo Tange (a Pritzker winner in 1987), before establishing the office of Arata Isozaki & Associates in 1963.
In a country still recovering from the decimation of WWII, Isozaki’s early career was shaped by a desire to rebuild from physical destruction and lingering cultural and economic uncertainty. “In order to find the most appropriate way to solve these problems, I could not dwell upon a single style. Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style,” says Isozaki.
Isozaki’s hometown of Fukuoka was the primary site of the young architect’s earliest projects. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Arata Isozaki & Associates emerged as one of Japan’s leading practices, completing major projects including the Ōita Prefectural Library (1962-66), Osaka’s Expo ’70 Festival Plaza (1966-70), the Gunma Museum of Modern Art (1971-74), and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Fukuoka (1972-74).
By the 1980s, Isozaki’s contextual sensibility helped foster a growing international dialogue in the architectural community. In Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art (1981-86) marked Isozaki’s inaugural overseas project, and the first step in a diverse – and growing – global portfolio. With over 100 completed works, Isozaki’s prominent international projects include Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi (1983-90), the Pala Alpitour (2002-05) in Turin, and the Shanghai Symphony Hall (2008-14).
For Isozaki, the roots of a long and distinguished career grew from the memory of devastation. He was 14 at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The experiences imparted the knowledge that while buildings are transient and temporary, they can impart pleasure and inspiration to the world around them. “When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down,” says Isozaki. “Across the shore, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up near ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city.”
Perhaps the architectural void of his youth inspired Isozaki’s contextual sensibility. “Only barracks and shelters surrounded me,” he says. “So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”