Inside the Visionary Buildings of 2019 Pritzker Prize-Winner Arata Isozaki

Inside the Visionary Buildings of 2019 Pritzker Prize-Winner Arata Isozaki

By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
Japanese architect Arata Isozaki receives the ​industry's highest honor.

In a move some say is a tad overdue, distinguished 87-year-old architect, city planner, and theorist Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize. "It’s like a crown on the tombstone," he joked to The New York Times on hearing the news.

2019 Pritzker Architecture Laureate Arata Isozaki.

Known as architecture's Nobel Prize, the award is given annually to honor an architect for significant achievement, and it was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago in 1979.

The announcement praised Isozaki for his ability to surpass the framework of architecture and raise questions that transcend eras and borders. "Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo, but his search for meaningful architecture was reflected in his buildings that to this day, defy stylistic categorizations, are constantly evolving, and always fresh in their approach," says the Jury Citation.

Isozaki's work began locally, with buildings in his hometown including the Ōita Prefectural Library.

Isozaki's interest in architecture began in his hometown of Ōita, near Hiroshima. He was 14 when the Atomic bomb dropped. "My first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities," he says in a prepared biography.

As one of the first Japanese architects to build outside Japan, Isozaki helped redefine the relationship between West and East, bringing Japanese vision to European and American design in the 1980s. Read on for a look at several of his most famous projects.

L.A. MOCA

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was the first project Isozaki designed in the USA.

Isozaki's first overseas project came when he was chosen to design the Museum of Contemporary Art's downtown Los Angeles location. Completed in 1986, the museum features red Indian sandstone and a series of pyramidal skylights that allow light to flood the interior. 

MOCA is Isozaki's most celebrated American work.

"I think he understood Los Angeles more than most architects do," Richard Koshalek, then director of the museum, told the Los Angeles Times. "I think he not only understood the quality of light that exists in Southern California, I also think he had a great understanding of artists like Sam Francis and Robert Irwin and their work, which at the time was breaking new ground."

Venice House

This Venice Beach concrete house, complete with a 600-square-foot patio, is the only Isozaki-designed home in America.

The next year the architect followed his first American commercial project with his only American residential project. He created a three-bedroom home in Venice Beach—just down the street from the museum—for art collector Teresa Bjornson. Its soaring, gallery-like spaces later enticed musician Eric Clapton to purchase the property, which recently changed hands for a list price of $5.46 million.

The interior of the Isozaki-designed Venice Beach home features soaring ceilings and ample natural light.

Qatar National Convention Center

The dynamic branching facade of the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha.

The Qatar National Convention Center in Doha is notable for its striking facade, which resembles two intertwined trees. According to the firm, "The tree is a beacon of learning and comfort in the desert and a haven for poets and scholars who gathered beneath its branches to share knowledge."

Shanghai Symphony Hall

The interior of the Shanghai Symphony Hall.

Completed in 2014, the Shanghai Symphony Hall comprises a 400-seat recording facility and a 1,200-seat rehearsal hall. The floating acoustic panels are made from woven timber, and the seating sections branch off from the stage like the petals of a flower.

The Art Tower Mito in Ibaraki, Japan

Other notable works in Isozaki’s portfolio of more than 100 buildings (and counting) include the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona and the Art Tower Mito 1990 in Ibaraki, Japan. Isozaki's work has been featured in solo exhibitions across the globe, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Tokyo Station Gallery, the National British Architecture Institute, and Miro Museum in Barcelona. He has served as a visiting professor at several U.S. universities, including Columbia University, Yale, NYU, and Harvard.

Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona

He still practices architecture from his home in Okinawa, with offices in Japan, China, Italy, and Spain. Isozaki is the 46th honoree of the Pritzker Prize and the eighth laureate from Japan. An award ceremony is scheduled for May at Château de Versailles near Paris.

More Architecture by Pritzker Prize Laureates: 12 Renzo Piano Buildings We Love11 Buildings by Shigeru BanA Concrete Home by Alejandro Aravena

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