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Arata Isozaki

Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
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Arata Isozaki (born July 23rd 1931, Oita) is a Japanese architect, designer and theorist. His work spans over half a century and has gone beyond thought, art, design, music, film, theater and of course architecture, and they have raised questions spanning multiple ages and multiple disciplines.

Training He studied with 1987 Pritzker Prize Laureate Kenzo Tange, at the Department of Architecture in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo from 1950 to 1954. Isozaki graduated in 1954 and continued working with Tange as a graduate student at the university and then in his firm from 1954 to 1963. Even though Isozaki established his own practice in 1963, he did not disassociate himself from his mentor, continuing to design occasionally for Tange into the 1970s. This attitude speaks of his work and also of Japanese practices that stress collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition, among professionals.

Work and Influences

Isozaki was born in Oita in Kyushu Japan in 1931 and was 14 years old when the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He quoted, "When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down. Across the shore, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up near ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities."

He established Arata Isozaki & Associates in 1963, after the Allied occupation when Japan had regained its sovereignty and was seeking physical rebuilding amidst political, economic and cultural uncertainty from the decimation of WWII. "In order to find the most appropriate way to solve these problems, I could not dwell upon a single style. Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style."

Nearly all of the leading 20th-century Japanese designers have attempted to synthesize indigenous traditions with Western forms, materials, and technologies. Isozaki's "style" has in fact been a series of modes that have come as a response to these influences.

As a young architect he was loosely associated with Metabolism, a movement founded in Japan in 1960. However, Isozaki minimized his connections to this group, seeing the Metabolist style as overly utilitarian in tone. By contrast, in the 1960s, Isozaki's work featured dramatic forms made possible through the employment of steel and concrete but not limited aesthetically by those materials. His designs of branch banks for the Fukuoka Mutual (1965-67) are characteristic of this early phase of Isozaki's career. The Oita Branch Bank (1966) is representative of the group: its powerful cantilevered upper stories are more characteristic of his English contemporary James Stirling that of any of his fellow Japanese architects.

In the 1970s Isozaki's architecture became more historical in its orientation, suggesting a connection with the burgeoning post-modern movement of Europe and the United States. His sources included classical Western architects, especially Andrea Palladio, Etienne-Louis Boullee, and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. These connections Isozaki did acknowledge, and his work of the 1970s represents a mature synthesis of formal, functional, and technical considerations. An example of which is his Fujimi Country Club, Oita City, constructed in 1973, which displays the love of pure form that also characterizes 18th-century French neoclassicism.

Another French principle, architecture parlante (architecture that bespeaks its function), is also at work at Fujimi: by massing the building in the shape of a question mark, Isozaki commented wittily on his incomprehension of his countrymen's obsession with golf.

Later, his Western influences were decidedly mannerist, with Giulio Romano and Michelangelo replacing the classicists as sources. Isozaki's Tsukuba City Center of 1979-1983, located in Ibaraki, is a complex of buildings clearly indebted to Michelangelo's Campidoglio in Rome, but not at all limited by it. Chosen as project director for this urban development, Isozaki created a design that included large, colorful buildings, a large plaza, and a sunken garden that provides as clear a statement of post-modern aims as any project built in Europe or the United States.

Building Outside Japan

This new-found fascination with what post-modern guru Robert Venturi called "complexity and contradiction" coincided with Isozaki's interest in building outside of his native country. His Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art (1984-1985) may be the best known structure by a Japanese designer in America.

Isozaki was, in fact, one of only a handful of Japanese architects to have such an impact in the West. In June 1997 the MOMA celebrated its 18th years by honoring 18 individuals, including creator Isozaki.

Isozaki's popularity and prestige as an architect is reflected in the commissions he took throughout the U.S. and Europe. He was a part of a cadre of exclusive architects enlisted by Disney to design buildings throughout the U.S. His creation stands just outside Orlando.

Isozaki also contributed in the International Bauaustellung of 1984/87 in Berlin IBA Berlin 1987 of world-famous architects for the urban renewal of Berlin. He designed a residential building, Isozaki House - Block 33 at the residential park development at the Berlin Museum, IBA Block 33. His residential building at Lindenstrasse 19 and a huge business complex at Potzdamer Platz Berliner Volksbank Headquarter are one of the many international works of Isozaki. He also branched out by designing the sets for the Lyon Opera's production of Madame Butterfly. Beside the Barcelona Olympic stadium is the Games' most striking structure--the $100-million Sant Jordi sports palace designed by Isozaki for the 1992 Olympics.

Other buildings in the West designed by Isozaki include museums in Nice, Cairo, as well as Los Angeles, and Brooklyn (NY), the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the Palladium discotheque in NY. Charles Jencks, an American critic noted Isozaki has taken the style of the West one step further.

Honors From Japan

Isozaki's excellence has been recognized in his native country and around the world. One of the honors he received was the Asahi award, given to individuals who make significant and lasting contributions to Japanese culture. He's also a multiple winner of the Annual Prize awarded by the Japan Architectural Association. Since the early 1970s there have been several one-man shows honoring Isozaki's work, including a London retrospective (1976).

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation in Tokyo announced plans for a new gallery, with an opening exhibit by Isozaki called "The Mirage City." In January 1995, a Japanese art and technology center was opened in Krakow, Poland by President Lech Walesa and members of Japan's imperial family, Prince and Princess Takamado. The center, designed in the shape of an ocean wave, was designed free of charge by Isozaki.

Isozaki was a visiting professor at several Japanese and American institutions, including the University of California at Los Angeles, the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University, and the University of Hawaii. He also wrote extensively about his architecture and the principles behind it (although, unfortunately, few of these writings have been translated).

Arata Isozaki is instantly recognizable by his distinctive style of dress. He often wears traditional Japanese clothing, and he favored the color black. He appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine in 1986, dressed in a "dazzingly" fashionable Issey Miyake creation. By presenting himself as being sartorially distinct from the crowd, Isozaki provided a contemporary parallel to the flamboyant Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect (and admirer of Japanese culture) who continued to affect Victorian dress long after it passed out of style. He is the winner of RIBA Gold medal(1986) and the Pritzker Prize in 2019.

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Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Encyclopedia of World Biography
  2. Wikipedia
ludmilla, May 27th, 2020
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