Begun in 1979 by the Hyatt Hotels’ founding Pritzker family, the Pritzker Prize in architecture is considered to be the Nobel Prize for architects – in fact, if you Google “Nobel Prize architecture,” the Pritzker Prize is the first result. The prize is awarded annually for a body of work versus a single building. The first winner was Crescent Court architect Philip Johnson.
The 2019 winner is 87-year-old Japanese architect Arata Isozaki who was quoted as being “overjoyed,” adding with an impish grin, “it’s like a crown on a tombstone.” Isozaki grew up in post-war Japan where much of its buildings had been lost to war. His early career rode a second wave of rebuilding.
Fujimi Country Club: Oita, Japan
One of his earlier commissions was the clubhouse for the Fujimi Country Club in 1973. At first glance it appears to be a curving tubular form, but a second look reveals it to be a large question mark with the small green patch its period. It was the architect’s literal questioning of Japan’s mania with golf – the client never mentioned the shape.
Museum of Contemporary Art: Los Angeles, CA
His first work outside Japan was in 1980 designing Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Unlike the artificially-lit museums of the era, Isozaki wanted the museum to be light-filled. He punctured the roof with large glass pyramid skylights located in positions to avoid direct sunlight on artworks. The vividly red of Indian sandstone catapulted his career onto a global stage for the next 40 years.
Domus Casa del Hombre: Coruña, Spain
In the mid-1990s, Isozaki designed another museum, this time on Spain’s coast. The Casa del Hombre (House of Man) is dedicated to the study of mankind. The building is shaped like a sail billowing out towards the harbor. The rear of the building resembled a folding fan.
Citylife Tower: Milan, Italy
Jumping forward another decade and we see the 50-story, 686-foot tall building in Milan, Italy. It’s the regional home to German insurance company Allianz. Plans for the building began in 2003 but the project wasn’t complete until 2014. The building’s exterior is a series of six-story connected convex segments that the architects (Isozaki collaborated with Milanese architect Andrea Maffei). The reason for the height was the local government’s demand to give back park space. The only way to free up ground space and make a structure economical is vertical building.
The building is obviously thin – measuring just 70-feet x 190-feet. Tall, thin buildings have issues with wind and seasickness from their swaying. There are various methods to combat the issue. Some buildings have “blow-out” floors where there are no windows that allow air to pass through the building and minimize swaying. Others have large suspended ballast tanks at their tops where water acts to oppose wind force. With the Allianz building, the architects decided to wear their supports with golden pride. There are four angled supports driven into bedrock that prop the building up and add stability.
Before you think the Allianz building sticks out on a blank landscape, know that it’s just the first of three unique high-rises slated for the area – one by Zaha Hadid and the other by Daniel Libeskind.
Bergamo Provincial Government Offices: Bergamo, Italy
Standing almost 300-feet tall was a 2011 proposal for Bergamo’s government offices that was another Isozaki collaboration with Andrea Maffei. The heavily-glassed structure uses geometric shapes and voids for visual excitement. The heavily cantilevered plan may harken back to the “question mark” country club where the viewer is left wondering how the building doesn’t collapse.
Certainly walking under the shaded, floating building makes you wonder. Sure, there’s a single large support visible, but is it enough to support such a large cantilever? It must be. Then you look where it connects to the building on the right and still you don’t see a large interior support. What appears to be the lightest of buildings your brain knows in reality is really, really heavy.
Zendai Himalayas Center: Shanghai, China
This is a rich soup of a building. In the center, the eye is drawn to free-flowing, organic shapes that resemble either strong roots or an eroded cave system. Either way, it’s flanked by an intricately-carved screen that mimics Chinese calligraphy – and sitting atop it all are a series of high-rises with an electric skin of changing nighttime colors.
A close-up of the organic center shows off the strength of the building holding up the platform of high-rises above. The cavernous spaces dwarf the scale of humanity while at the same time promoting an openness that invited visitors inside.
Zooming back, you can better see the platform and the buildings that rest upon it. Note the large cube in the foreground. What could have been a darkly-lit interior on such a deep building has been given light by fixing a round peg in a square hole. The large well ensures light penetrates into the thick and deep recesses. You can also see the green spaces between the buildings that appear to be sprouting from the outsized “roots” below.
The inside of the root structure is as you’d expect it. Very organic with the overly large spaces recognizable to children playing in a darkened forest.
Dallasites should enjoy this picture. The building is well lit. At the far end is an enormous TV screen while the cube is completely crisscrossed with fiber optic lighting that can project ads as easily as patterns. The lower levels aren’t left out of the game wither with backlit screens and up-lighting to accent the organic center section.
This is just a brief taste of Arata Isozaki’s decades-spanning architectural portfolio. But as you can see, his style it difficult to pin down and constantly evolving. Back in 1993, the New York Times architecture critic said of Isozaki, “He perceived that a time that had lost its faith in the future had also lost its grip on the past.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.