Toyo Ito, Architect Pritzker Prize

Toyo Ito, Architect Pritzker Prize

The reknown architect Toyo Ito has just received the Pritzker Prize in architecture (see New York Times Article on Toyo Ito), the equivalent in the field of a Nobel Prize, and for good reason.  The Pritzker jury committee calls him a “creator of timeless buildings” and cites him for “infusing his designs with a spiritual dimension and for the poetics that transcend all his works.”

Can Buildings be Extensions of the Human Being?

Toyo Ito’s organic structures found in nature and his capacity to see buildings as an extension of the human being lead us to consider new forms in architecture.  Can this architect’s understanding of space, nature and beauty help the Japanese liberate us from the traditional classical square and rectangular shapes which most of humanity calls “home” ?

Within Toyo Ito’s work is a greater understanding of “間” or space that using buildings as a skin, a space, that opens a door for long forgotten relationships amongst people.  In our fragmented and functional world, we often forgot about the importance of people and how buildings can break or enhance environments for meaningful human exchange.

What types of new buildings will create environments that inspire our relationships with others, our work and our sense of self?

By considering a building a “skin” for which man experiences a relationship with and integrates himself into the environment, we may start to imagine new forms and relationships between man facilitated by architecture.  These forms can have an impact both large and small.  They can inspire in man greater compassion and improve relationships amongst individuals who may feel alienated.

In this vein, Toyo Ito and several other architects have designed a “house for all,” as shown in Keiko Courdy’s web documentary Yonaoshi.   Her stunning documentary talks about a New Japan emerging from the disaster, a Japan better than before.   Perhaps, when we look at this house, we begin to understand the spirit of this new Japan.

In the video interview of Toyo Ito, Keiko Courdy shows a  prototype of a house by Ito that builds on a new spirit of community.  The wooden house has a place to sit outside where people can naturally greet passing neighbors and a place to gather to cook together a simple meal inside or to have tea together.   Inspired by his work and enabled by his extraordinary team including Ms. Miki Uono, we recently went to meet Mr. Toyo Ito and his chief architect, Toyohiko Kobayashi, to discuss these houses and other projects they envision in Tohoku.

Toyo ItoCurrently, Mr. Toyo Ito and his associates have built or are in the final stages of completing 12 houses in Tohoku including houses for farmers and fishermen which can serve as schools and meeting places as well as locations where food can be prepared, served or sold. 

With many people unemployed in Tohoku, these places provide an area for new services, learning and friendships to emerge.

They give men and women a place to go work together and hope for their future.  The houses are small and financially affordable for prefectures.  The first house was a donation from one locality in Japan to another, but the following houses have been locally financed.  The costs are kept low as they are community projects where the very construction process brings people together and creates new friendships and hope.  With rising domestic violence, alcohol addiction and rising suicide in Tohoku, we find that the construction of more of these houses is now needed and hope to work together to accelerate the process.

Mr. Toyo Ito and Associates have also designed the most beautiful park for children which has yet to be realized.  He pointed out that the people of Fukushima are having a hard time, as people moved inland and away from dangerous zones and encountered integration problems with the community already present.  A park for kids may help bring two communities together over children.   By working with Ronald Choi, an investment banker from JP Morgan, we would like to see this realized.

Join Toyo Ito and Other Architects Imagining a New Japan

The experience of Japanese architects wishing to contribute to a new Japan but finding prefectures overwhelmed after March 11th remind us of the courage necessary to break away from bureaucracy and let a new Japan emerge. While many architects wanted to do something, overwhelmed prefectures could not handle requests nor even donations.

Other Japanese architects too, like Shigeru Ban, have created new structures for people up north often without help from local governments nor outside funding nor support.   These architects remind us of our responsibility in crisis to think about the people within the houses, about their hearts, minds and desire to be together with loved ones.

Some Japanese bureaucrats have been courageous to take steps to allow the private sector to do something and have allowed talented Japanese architects to realize new structures.   However, more needs to be done to help Japanese architects build and innovate according to needs of people who have lost their homes and often all hope.

It could be our role to link Japanese architects, courageous mayors and bureaucrats who are willing to take a chance with investment bankers and daring social entrepreneurs to help make the daily life of our citizens livable.

For those interested in helping accelerate the implementation Toyo Ito’s projects in Tohoku, please notify us or his office directly.

See also artistic propositions:  Can Architects inspire us Beyond Our Previous Best?