The Void, The Shape and The Bridge of Arata Isozaki
Feature by Jyqa Patano
The Pritzker Architecture Prize jury awarded the annual laureate to Arata Isozaki this year. The well-deserved award comes from decades of path-forging work from the architect, theorist and city planner hailing from Ōita, on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Prior experience with the “architectural void” of the post-war landscape inspired the young Isozaki to take part in rebuilding effort. His work reflects the values of constant evolution and growth stemming from personal experience, directing the path of postmodern architecture to the future, and inspiring us at Casper & Casper.
Isozaki does not look at space devoid of art as a source of hopelessness. Instead, he draws from it like a well of inspiration, using it as motivation for continuous professional and personal development. This led to the diversity of his projects, adding the extra Isozaki touch that makes his work truly unique. He uses the ‘architectural void’ as a mirror and incorporates these reflections on daring designs that range from brutalist, avant-garde and postmodern, often manifesting as a mixture of all these styles.
The Pritzker Prize jury cites the Gunma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (1974) as an Isozaki’s signature “fascination with void and grid as it seeks to attain an equilibrium in which to display changing works of art”. The building casts its shadow over a pool of water disturbed by the outside elements and the illusion of source-less streams that leap out of its surface.
The geometry of the museum and its gridded, industrial surfaces uses the traditional Japanese Shinto architecture as an outline, and daring, modern technique to fill the spaces of conventional building methods. The entrance itself is reminiscent of torii – a demarcation between the sacred and the ordinary – and, consequently, marks the entrance of every visitor into the world of art that lies within the museum.
Like the progression of his work, Isozaki’s design sensibilities are non-linear and aesthetically bold in their form. The dynamic liquidity and irregularity of his buildings showcase architectural mobility and flexibility.
Take the Ark Nova (2013), for example, designed with Anish Kapoor: a travelling, inflatable concert hall that was meant to tour the affected regions of Japan after the 2011 tsunami catastrophe. Against the uniformity of tall high-rises, Isozaki has also worked on the Nara Centennial Hall (1998), the slate-and-granite Domus: la Casa del Hombre (1995), the winding top-view and arched interiors Kitakyushu Central Library (1974) and the armadillo-esque Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) Art Museum (2008) in Beijing.
He showcases a clear dedication to the context and the challenge of forming new constructions, with full consideration to the exterior and the interior. These buildings also protect themselves – and the art that lies within them – by becoming art structures on their own. These are striking new additions to landscapes that curve along rolling hills and mountains or the harsh lines of the cityscapes.
An intent to achieve balance and connection within his work, which has “facilitated a dialogue between the East and West”, being an international leader of cross-cultural design through innovative thinking ahead of his time. His work reconciles the destruction left behind by a devastating war and rebuilds spaces in his own Isozaki way.
He established Isozaki & Associates in 1963, after Japan regained its sovereignty from Allied occupation. Through the company, Isozaki has been instrumental in introducing continuous growth to the world of architecture and design. He has worked on more than a hundred projects between his home country and others, including the Allianz Tower (2014) in Milan, the Qatar National Convention Center (2011), the Museum of Contemporary Art (1986), Los Angeles, and Shanghai Symphony Hall (2014). His collaborations with other designers, architects and builders highlight the possibilities of rebuilding the environment and the cultural landscape, paying homage to history and forging the relevance of the past within the modern era.
From Brutalism and beyond
Arata Isozaki’s work proves that art fills not just the spatial void, but a deeper, more symbolic one that encompasses affinities towards art, culture and history. Isozaki highlights a solution to achieve balance between clean-cut minimalism and creative innovation. He does not compromise pragmatism for art; instead, he uses one to augment and enhance the other. He is a ground-breaking inspiration to creatives in his field and beyond it, and we at Casper & Casper believe that the Pritzker Architecture Prize is a fitting celebration and praise of Isozaki’s multiple merits and contributions.