In memoriam: Arata Isozaki (1931 – 2022)

The legendary Japanese architect Arata Isozaki dies on 29th December 2022; we celebrate his life and work

Arata Isozaki dies - pictured here, his Weill Cornell Medical College
The Weill Cornell Medical College by Isozaki, Doha, Qatar, 2004
(Image credit: Daniel Stier)

The Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has died at his home in Okinawa at the age of 91. Isozaki carved a unique path in the architecture field with his eye-catching designs, which blended postmodernism with metabolism. His work has been recognised globally through several accolades, including the 2019 Pritzker Prize – one of the industry’s highest honours. 

Palau Sant Jordi at Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain, 1990

Palau Sant Jordi at Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain, 1990.

(Image credit: Victoriano Javier Tornel García)

Arata Isozaki dies at the age of 91

Isozaki studied at the University of Tokyo. The Oita-born architect gained professional experience working under another famed architect and fellow countryman Kenzo Tange, who has been known for balancing modernist architecture and traditional Japanese styles. Isozaki then went on to set up his own studio, Arata Isozaki & Associates, in 1963. He also founded a branch of his practice in Italy in 2005 with Andrea Maffei, showcasing his admiration for travel and an approach that manages both site-specific and international influences. 

‘I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I travelled around the globe at least ten times before I turned thirty. I wanted to feel the life of people in different places and visited extensively inside Japan, but also to the Islamic world, villages in the deep mountains of China, South East Asia, and metropolitan cities in the US. I was trying to find any opportunities to do so, and through this, I kept questioning, “What is architecture?”‘ has said Isozaki of his passions and explorations.

Arata Isozaki wins the Prizker Prize 2019

The Art Tower in Mito by Isozaki, Ibaraki, Japan, 1990

(Image credit: Kentaro Ohno / Yuko Honda)

Among Isozaki's great works include the Ōita Prefectural Library, Japan (1966); the MOCA, Los Angeles (1986); the Palau Sant Jordi at Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain (1990); The Art Tower in Mito by Isozaki, Ibaraki, Japan (1990); the Kyoto Concert Hall (1995); the Shenzhen Cultural Centre (2007); and the Allianz Tower in Milan (which was completed in 2015 with his partner Andrea Maffei). 

‘Extravagance for me is complete silence – nothing less,’ has said Isozaki in a film shown during the 2018 Venice Biennale. Integral to the late architectural legacy was the Japanese concept of ma – the void and time that lies between all things – which has had a profound influence on his work.

‘Isozaki was one of the first Japanese architects to build outside of Japan during a time when western civilizations traditionally influenced the East, making his architecture - which was distinctively influenced by his global citizenry - truly international. In a global world, architecture needs that communication,’ said Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, on Isozaki's Prize win in 2019. 

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).