We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.

Get the Magazine

Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto has been announced as the laureate of the 2024 Pritzker Architecture Prize, recognized by the jury for a “long, coherent, rigorous career” that has integrated uncommon sensitivity to place and culture into a diverse and wide-ranging international portfolio of built work. “By the strong, consistent quality of his buildings, he aims to dignify, enhance and enrich the life of individuals — from children to elders — and their social connections,” notes the jury citation.

Yamakawa Villa, 1977, Nagano, Japan. The architect’s earliest work is a private residence situated in woods, designed to feel entirely like an open-air terrace and enjoyed during the warmer months. The non-prescriptive terrace seamlessly transitions into a living room and dining room, while sleeping quarters and the kitchen are contained in small dispersed rooms. PHOTO: Tomio Ohashi.

Born in Beijing in 1945, Yamatomo relocated to Japan shortly after the end of World War II. As a child in Yokohama, he lived in a home inspired by a traditional Japanese machiya — a centuries-old vernacular that typically combines a small retail space with a residential dwelling. At the front of the building, his mother operated a small pharmacy, while a modest living space occupied the back. “The threshold on one side was for family, and on the other side for community. I sat in between,” he recalls.

Yokosuka Museum of Art, 2006, Yokosuka, Japan. The inviting serpentine entrance evokes the surrounding Tokyo Bay and nearby mountains, while many of the galleries are underground, providing those who approach with a clear, undisturbed visual experience of the natural geography. PHOTO: Tomio Ohashi.

From an early age, Yamatomo became interested in the built environment — and the cultural narratives embedded within it. As a teenager, he was captivated by a visit to Nara’s Kôfuku-ji Temple, a buddhist haven which was originally built in 730 and reconstructed in 1426. “It was very dark, but I could see the wooden tower illuminated by the light of the moon and what I found at that moment was my first experience with architecture,” says Yamatomo.

Hotakubo Housing 1991 Kumamoto, Japan. The complex was Yamatomo’s first social housing commission.

After completing his bachelor’s degree at Nihon University in 1968, Yamatomo obtained a master’s from the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1971, and continued his education under the tutelage of Hiroshi Hara at the University of Tokyo. As a young man, his culturally attuned sensibility was also shaped by avid travels, including a months-long drive across the Mediterranean, as well as expeditions across India and Nepal, and a journey from Los Angeles to Peru. In 1973, he established his practice, Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop.

The Circle at Zurich Airport, 2020. Zürich, Switzerland. Situated between a highway and a large park, The Circle, itself, is the threshold between the airport and local city. Demonstrating a diverse mastery of scale, one side of the building features an expansive uniform façade, while the other unlocks its own city that evokes medieval towns of Switzerland imbued with new technologies evolved for present and future lifestyles. PHOTO: Flughafen Zürich AG

As a practicing architect, Yamatomo took on a wide range of commissions. In 1977, the fledgling designer completed his first commission, the Yamakawa Villa private residence in Nagano. Framed by an indoor-outdoor terrace, the modest house immerses residents in the woodland setting, creating a gentle, liminal progression from private indoor spaces to the natural environment. By 1991, his oeuvre expanded to include Kumamoto’s landmark Hotakubo Housing complex, which combines multi-generational living spaces with a generous public realm. Here, too, private homes meet the civic space — a tree-lined central square. The apartments are wrapped by terraces where laundry is dried, and plants and conversations alike are cultivated. While the 110-unit project asserts a meaningful urban scale, a sense of intimacy and connection is palpable.

Fussa City Hall, 2008, Tokyo, Japan. Fussa City Hall is conceived as two mid-rise towers, rather than one high-rise, to compliment the surrounding neighbourhood of low-rise buildings. Low hills on the site are reflected in the sloped curved edges of the building. PHOTO: Sergio Pirrone.

Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, the scale and complexity of Yamatomo’s built work has continued to evolve. From public housing and private residences to civic buildings and post-secondary institutions, his eclectic portfolio remained defined by its sociable qualities. It is an ethos served by varying, context-specific and rigorous design strategies. For example, South Korea’s Pangyo Housing complex (completed in 2010) fosters connection between its low-income residents through a shared second-storey promenade — a design strategy that accommodates the hilly surroundings to create an accessible shared space above a steep landscape.

Pangyo Housing, 2010, Seongnam, Republic of Korea. A complex of nine low-rise housing blocks is designed with nonprescriptive transparent ground floor volumes that catalyze interconnectedness between neighbors, assuring that even those residents who live alone don’t dwell in isolation. A communal deck across the second floor encourages interaction, featuring spaces for gathering, playgrounds, gardens and bridges that connect one housing block to another. PHOTO: Kouichi Satake.

Completed in 2018, the Koyasu Elementary School exemplifies Yamatomo’s civic sensibility — and aesthetic élan. An elegant grid of terraces embraces the building, transforming the circulation of students into part of the urban tapestry. “Whether he designs private houses or public infrastructure, schools or fire stations, city halls or museums, the common and convivial dimension is always present,” notes the jury citation. The scales and uses vary, from Yamatomo’s own home (completed in 1986) to institutional landmarks like Koshigaya’s Saitama Prefectural University (1999) and China’s Tianjin Library (2012). In an architectural culture where the dissolution between public private space is frequently cited yet seldom accomplished, Yamatomo’s carefully attuned strategies evince a refreshingly lucid perspective.

Future University of Hakodate, 2000, Hakodate, Japan. The classrooms, auditorium and library are lined with glass walls providing the possibility for everyone to peer, engage and learn. Open common areas are placed just outside of the transparent rooms, on overlapping levels, allowing users to feel connected to activities all around them. Even the interiors of professor research rooms are visible from beyond their walls, and surrounded by lightweight aluminum furniture, encouraging students to draw near. PHOTO: Isao Aihara.

Led by 2016 Pritzker laureate Alejandro Aravena, the eight-person jury comprised Deborah Berke, Stephen Breyer, Barry Bergdoll, Wang Shu, Kazuyo Sejima, André Aranha Corrêa do Lago, and Manuela Lucá-Dazio. “Riken Yamamoto has managed to produce architecture both as background and foreground to everyday life, blurring boundaries between its public and private dimensions, and multiplying opportunities for people to meet spontaneously, through precise, rational design strategies,” notes the jury.

Gazebo, 1986 Yokohama, Japan. Yamamoto’s own home is designed to invoke interaction with neighbors from terraces and rooftops. PHOTO: Tomio Ohashi.
Riken Yamamoto Wins 2024 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Led by Alejandro Aravena, the jury celebrates an architect whose buildings are both “background and foreground to everyday life.”

We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.