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The Hyatt Foundation has Given the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize to Toyo Ito, 71, of Japan. Ito has created some of the most outstanding buildings of the past few decades, and because the tsunami in 2011 he has been overtly concerned with diplomatic efforts within his own country. He’s the sixth architect from Japan to acquire what’s considered the maximum honor in structure; the previous ones are Kenzo Tange (1987), Fumihiko Maki (1993), Tadao Ando (1995) along with the duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (2010).

Ito was practicing since the 1970s, but his big portfolio of completed buildings belies any formal consequences or linear evolution in his architecture. “When one construction is completed,” he states, “I become aware of my own inadequacy, and it turns into power to challenge the next project. Probably this process must keep repeating itself in the future. Therefore, I won’t ever fix my architectural design and never be happy with my works.”

A formal ceremony will be held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Wednesday, May 29, JFK’s birthday.

Though Ito’s structure is officially diverse, it’s possible to see three phases (so far) in his work. Early on he designed within an abstract, minimalist fashion, but he moved on into an architecture of lightness and scientific saying. This is the time for which he’s best known, but in the past decade or so he has embraced bold structural systems that hybridize surface and structure. Not merely are his layouts more complicated than ever, however they are also some of his largest commissions. His responses to the tsunami only might herald a new direction for him personally, as ideas of home increase to the fore.

Ito’s first significant construction, and a symbol of his ancient minimalist stage, is the White U home in Tokyo (completed 1976, demolished 1997). Stan Allen, at a publication based on a Toyo Ito lecture at Princeton, called it “arguably the most radical home of the twentieth century,” and it’s easy to see how the home breaks from the traditional fabric of its environment. It turns a clean face to the road and introverts its gaze into the courtyard; the incline of the roof reinforces this emphasis.

The home is similar to a very long corridor that goes round the courtyard, instead of any articulation of chambers. Ito really known as the interior a “universal tubular area,” as if it torques the modernist plan of Mies to create an open space and a continuous sense of expectation as one goes through the home.

Yet even as the White U home is a real horseshoe, the interior displays a particular lightness — it doesn’t feel heavy as the structure of fellow countryman and Pritzker winner Tadao Ando. Buildings like the multipurpose Dome in Odate (1997) convey a similar lightness whilst also being assembled from lighter materials.

The interior of the dome actually communicates its emphasis on lightness, not just in the way the curved trusses support a translucent skin, but at how the construction is indeed open on the floor. It’s as if the dome is raised lightly over the ground to offer access to the interior.

The culmination of Ito’s second stage is that the Sendai Mediatheque, a library, completed in 2001. The massive building is that the builder’s exploration of the connection between architecture and technology, appropriate given the schedule of the library to the 21st century. Additionally, it is a segue to his later works with bold structural systems.

Quite a few tubular columns are bundled together to serve as structure, vertical systems and vertical circulation for the various floors. The consequent forest-like spaces are Ito’s method of viewing how structures can work from the digital age. It is also a highly resilient construction, one that went inland during the March 11, 2011, earthquake that struck the coast of Japan, as you can see in this movie.

Both of these towers exemplify the gaps between Ito’s second and third phases. On the right is his Tower of Winds (1986) at Yokohama, a cylinder rung by lights whose routines are generated by ecological factors (traffic, noise, end). The Tod’s Omotesando Building (2004) on the left could be composed of stacked floors, but the exterior wall is a treelike form that is also the building’s structure. A epidermis of technological expression gives way into a skin of technological structure.

To get a temporary pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London (2002), Ito worked together with engineer Cecil Balmond. The simple rectangular space was created stunning by complicated cuts generated from algorithms. In this endeavor the distinction between structure and skin-enclosure is starting to disappear. (The Tod’s construction follows two decades later.)

But he was not content to continue with all the intricate diagonals of the Tod’s construction and the Serpentine Gallery. Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall (2006) is a undulating roofscape sheltering spaces enclosed with glass walls.

The columns and some of the interior walls meld together with all the undulating roof, dispensing with a transparent base-middle-top order and any comprehension of traditional structure. Again, surface and structure become one.

The Tama Art University Library (2007) at Tokyo proceeds Ito’s exploration of structure. The two-story building is indicated by large arched openings, even though the stretched, elliptical shape of the openings indicates that something different is occurring.

The arches are actually made from slender concrete walls with metal cores. The walls comprise the exterior but also the interior, thereby structuring the whole construction and defining the various spaces inside.

The intricate spaces that result from Ito’s structural experimentation look like echoes of pure forms, and this could be why they look so gratifying. Keep an eye out for his style of the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, now under construction in Taiwan; with its complicated curving shells, it might just be the pinnacle of Ito’s third stage.

The awarding of the Pritzker Architecture Prize to Toyo Ito is a surprise to individuals following contemporary structure, and to anybody in Japan. Imabari-shi, Ehime, is already home to the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture (2011) — and having a committed museum is an honor that very few living architects receive.

What direction Ito’s structure will require is hinted at in the exhibition he curated at the Venice Architecture Biennale this past year. (It received an award for the best pavilion.) It concentrated on the Home for All project he’s been working on together with different architects (including fellow Pritzker winner Kazuyo Sejima) on how to reconstruct following the March 2011 disasters that left 100,000 people homeless.

The first outcome of House for everyone is a simple structure that provides people a place where they can meet and figure out how to reconstruct. “Let us think about our House for All a one-off gesture, but one that, as recovery efforts move, only might cause more permanent constructions,” Ito said in 2011. “We might be encouraging a whole new direction in creative community architecture.”

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