Living Legend: Toyo Ito

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  • Tuesday, 14 May 2013 00:00
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2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Interview by Dr. Anthony Al-JamieIN March 2013, it was announced that 71-year old Tokyo-based Toyo Ito is the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize recipient.The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded annually to a living architect whose “built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and com- mitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” The laureates are awarded a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.

Previous Japanese recipients were Kenzo Tange (1987), Fumihiko Maki (1993), Tadao Ando (1995), and Kazuyo Seijima & Ryue Nishizawa (2010).

TJ: Congratulations on winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize! It is the biggest award in architecture.
ITO: Yes. After it was announced, many architects from all over the world sent me congratulations. I was so surprised that it is such a big award!

TJ: Who congratulated you?
ITO: Yes. After it was announced, many architects from all over the world sent me congratulations. I was so surprised that it is such a big award!

TJ:Are you the 5th or 6th Japanese architect to win the Pritzker?
ITO: Yes, 5th..or 6th…because both Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa received the award together.

TJ: Who was the f irst person you called after you heard you received the award?
ITO: One of the jury members called me and the first thing he said was, “Please keep this confidential,” so all of my staff found out about the news after the announcement was made in the media.

TJ:Was there someone you were excited to tell about it?
ITO: My staff!

TJ: What made you want to become an architect?
ITO: When I was a university student, I was not particularly interested in architecture. However, after graduating, I began working for Kiyonori Kikutake. There, I learned the interesting points of architecture and developed a fascination for the field.

TJ: After your long career in architecture, what do you think is the most important skill for architects to have?
ITO: I make public architecture. Public architecture is usually very conservative. Most public architects cannot capture a sense of time. I want public architects to be released from that kind of conservatism.

TJ: How did you learn English?
ITO: Only in high school, but I did not study English very hard. I regret not studying now. When I was young, I did not think I would use English much. I should have studied more! I use English now more than I could imagine. When I was young, I had a lot of free time…but it was too often spent drinking!

TJ:Should young Japanese people study English?
ITO: Yes, of course! Like my staff – they speak English very well.

TJ:What is your feeling about young people in Japan?
ITO: This is not just regarding young Japanese people, but young people all over the world. Recently, they use mobile phones and computers, but actually it is very important that we discuss things face to face. Through discussion with other people, we can stimulate our imagination about architecture. I am worried young people will miss such opportunities

TJ: What is your dream?
ITO: I have engaged myself in educating young people. After the earthquake, I tried to support young people and I would like to continue trying hard to give young people more support.

TJ:What kind of support are you providing young people?
ITO: I spent two years collaborating with younger architects to make a community house called “Home for All”. I’d like to continue that. I also started making a new town north of Fukushima in Iwate Prefecture.

TJ: Do you plan to teach in university?
ITO: Until now, I have not taught much in Japanese architecture schools. I question Japanese architectural education. They don’t focus on design much. However, two years ago I established a very small private school for 15 architecture graduates. I focus on basic questions like “what is architecture”.

TJ: Is education an important part of your job from now?
ITO:Yes, very important. I think what is important for young people to learn is what kind of architecture we should make.

TJ: How do you see the future of Japanese architecture changing in the near future?
ITO: I think modern architecture has some limitations because modern architecture does not make a relationship between architecture and nature. Also, modern architecture does not include or embrace history. It’s making me think about the future of architecture. It’s time to rethink the relationship between architecture, nature and history

TJ: Do you have a big project you really want to do?
ITO: One of my new projects is the construction of a new town in the Tohoko area near the earthquake. I want to continue to create architecture that incorporates nature.

TJ: Are you working on international projects?
ITO: Yes, I am building an Opera House in Taiwan. It is under construction now.

TJ: What is your motivational message to young people starting their careers now?
ITO:Recently, globalization is the main trend. Architecture recently encourages or promotes economic richness. However, at the same time, architecture has different aspects. Architecture can make people free and feel comfortable. That’s the important thing. Go back to that kind of important aspect. Create architecture for humanity.

TJ: When it comes to earthquake resistant buildings, do you think Japanese architecture is advanced?
ITO:Oh, yes. After the earthquake in Kobe in 1995, structural standards changed and after the last big earthquake in Tohoku two years ago, very few buildings were damaged by the earthquake. They were damaged by the tsunami, but few were damaged by the earthquake.

TJ: Shouldn’t this technology be used in foreign countries as well?
ITO: Yes, I think so. Japanese technology in this area is very advanced and should be used in foreign countries.

Thank you for your time sir, and once again congratulations on receiving the most prestigious award in architecture. tj

1 — Sendai Mediatheque, Miyagi, Japan 2 — Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Gifu, Japan  
3 — Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, 2002, London, U.K.    


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