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Japan’s Toyo Ito chosen for prestigious Pritzker prize

Architect will be honored in May at JFK museum

Ito’s transparent Sendai Mediatheque library, in Sendai, Japan, survived the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

TOYO ITO AND ASSOCIATES VIA AP

Ito’s transparent Sendai Mediatheque library, in Sendai, Japan, survived the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

LOS ANGELES — Japanese architect Toyo Ito, whose buildings have been praised for their fluid beauty and balance between the physical and virtual world, has won the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the prize’s jury announced Sunday.

The 71-year-old architect joins such masters as Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, and Wang Su in receiving the honor that has been called architecture’s Nobel Prize. Ito, the sixth Japanese architect to receive the prize, was recognized for the libraries, houses, theaters, offices, and other buildings he has designed in Japan and beyond.

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‘‘Toyo Ito’s architecture has improved the quality of both public and private spaces,’’ said US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who served on the Pritzker Prize jury.

‘‘It has inspired many architects, critics, and members of the general public alike. Along with all others involved with the Pritzker Prize, I am very pleased that he has received the award,’’ Breyer said.

Some of Ito’s notable creations include the curvaceous Municipal Funeral Hall in Gifu, Japan; the arch-filled Tama Art University Library in suburban Tokyo; the spiral White O residence in Marbella, Chile; and the angular 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London. His transparent Sendai Mediatheque Library survived Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Toyo Ito will receive a $100,000 grant.

AP

Toyo Ito will receive a $100,000 grant.

‘‘His buildings are complex, yet his high degree of synthesis means that his works attain a level of calmness, which ultimately allows the inhabitants to freely develop their life and activities in them,’’ said Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize jury member Alejandro Aravena.

In a telephone interview with The New York Times, Ito said he was gratified by the honor, especially because it represents an acceptance of his position as an iconoclast who has challenged the past 100 years of Modernism.

“I’ve been thinking that Modernism has already reached to the limit or a dead end,” Ito said through an interpreter. “I didn’t expect this surprising news, and I’m very happy about it.”

Ito began his career at Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates after he graduated from Tokyo University in 1965. He founded his own architecture firm in 1971. His works have been exhibited in museums in the United States, England, Denmark, Italy, Chile, and numerous cities in Japan. Nicolai Ouroussoff, then the architecture critic of The New York Times, remarked in 2009 that Ito had repeatedly been passed over for the Pritzker “in favor of designers with much thinner résumés.”

Ito will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion at the formal Pritzker ceremony May 29 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Looking back over his career, Ito said he is particularly proud of the Sendai Mediatheque, which was completed in 2001. The building’s design is dominated by structural tubes that support the floor plates and provide circulation, pathways that the Pritzker jury said “permitted new interior spatial qualities.”

But Ito is also proud of the building’s significance as a project that was meant to withstand an earthquake. (It won a Golden Lion Award at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale.) A video of the inside of the building taken by someone under a table during the earthquake in 2011 went viral.

“The building shook and swayed violently; everything cascaded from shelves and desks onto the floor,” the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Ceiling panels appeared to swing drunkenly overhead. But the Mediatheque did not collapse. It stood firm against the massive seismic forces that were tearing other buildings apart; the basic structure did not fail.”

Ito has been active in the recovery effort.

Sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, the Pritzker Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, to honor ‘‘a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.’’

The Pritzker family founded the prize because of its involvement with developing Hyatt Hotel properties around the world and because architecture was not included in the Nobel Prizes. The Pritzker selection process is modeled after the Nobels.

Material from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.
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