Toyo Ito’s Pritzker of change?

Probably one of the most unexpected architectural events of 2013, at least for me, was the announcement of the Pritzker prize. An ardent fan of Toyo Ito, yes i could stalk to get an autograph of his, I was surprised at the announcement. Now before any backlash, let me explain why.
The Surprise

Wait! Toyo Ito hasn’t gotten a Pritzker yet? Ok… So excuse me for not mugging up that list but a quick check, thank God for the Internet, tells me he hasn’t. I have admired Ito’s works since my eyes first set sight on Tod’s (Omotesando) in Japan, the very first project of his I came across. Considering my background as someone who has grown up in and with Dubai (oft labeled ‘an architect’s dreamland’), Tod’s was a marvel. A very different piece of work from all that I had seen and was used to. To put things into perspective; Ito’s work was more about ‘soul’ than ‘bling’.

Soul vs. Bling
At the expense of sounding cacophony I have resorted to these choice of words and so am obliged to explain clearly. A look at works by almost 75% of famous architects or architectural firms today will probably leave anyone rightfully awestruck. Examples may include the currently tallest tower Burj Khalifa (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) or Frank O. Gehry’s Guggenheim (Bilbao, Spain). These are in my opinion the ‘bling’ projects. They are fascinating, surreal and endearing, your primary thoughts being, how did he / she / they come up with this form, how on Earth is that building standing, etc… However, thats it. A few pictures, a few exclamatory remarks and sometimes a trip abroad sufficiently satisfies this natural curiosity.

Works like Toyo Ito’s, Tadao Ando is another example that comes to mind, do not necessarily inspire the same jaw -dropping reactions. They exhibit a more calm and subdued aura. However, here is where the crucial difference comes in, these are works you look at again and again. Each study brings into perpective new details that you had somehow missed before. An admiration that is nurtured rather than explosive. Ito’s projects make you scourge for details, whether its the ‘simplistic’ sendai mediatheque or the even more ‘obvious’ tower of the wind. Translucency is a crucial theme in Ito’s works and is reflected in his style prevalently. Its about looking ‘beyond’ the exterior and finding the ‘soul’ of the project.

The Naive Traveler vs. The Authentic Explorer
Both these philosophies have been crucial in the development of the world today. They are equally important, functionally innovative and brilliant in their own right. So we come down to the final questions that the timing of this Pritzker has raised. We have seen a wave of architectural ‘bling’ in these recent years and hence an acknowledgement of Ito’s works seems to be an acknowledgement of a probable shift in trends. I have always hoped all architecture graduates have a foundation that builds upon or is inspired from the soulful works of architects like Toyo Ito regardless of how drastically their styles change by the time they mature as designers. After all without a ‘soul’ all we are left with is a ‘hollow shell’. So what are your thoughts, do you think this pritzker is a nod to the return of ‘soul’ in architecture or to the fleeting nostalgia of it?

Author: Shafiya Rizwan
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