Japanese architect Arata Isozaki wins the Pritzker Prize 2019

Weill Cornell Medical College by Arata Isozaki
Arata Isozaki wins the Prizker prize 2019. Pictured here, the Weill Cornell Medical College by Isozaki, Doha, Qatar, 2004
(Image credit: Daniel Stier)

Arata Isozaki has won the Pritzker Prize 2019. The Japanese architect, born in 1931, is known for his style that combines postmodernism and metabolism with technology. His work has shaped public life across the world through a focus on cultural architecture from concert halls in Kyoto, Barcelona and Thessaloniki, to museums and art galleries such as the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles. Isozaki is the 46th laureate and eighth architect from Japan to win the Pritzker Prize.

His architectural work has now spanned six decades and the Prizker jury recognise him for his contribution to pioneering a global approach to architecture. ‘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.

‘I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I traveled around the globe at least ten times before I turned thirty’ – Arata Isozaki

Isozaki set up his own practice, Arata Isozaki & Associates in 1963, after studying at the University of Tokyo and developing his professional knowlegde working under Kenzo Tange. He set up a branch of his practice in Italy in 2005 with Andrea Maffei, which reflected his experience of working across continents and successfully bridging cultures through architecture by designing contextually-specific solutions for each project.

‘I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I traveled 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 U.S. I was trying to find any opportunities to do so, and through this, I kept questioning, "what is architecture?"’ says Isozaki.

His notable works include the Ōita Prefectural Library, Japan, completed in 1966; the MOCA, Los Angeles, completed in 1986; the Kyoto Concert Hall, completed in 1995; the Shenzhen Cultural Centre, completed 2007; and the Allianz Tower in Milan, completed in 2015 with his partner Andrea Maffei.

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

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

(Image credit: Victoriano Javier Tornel García)

One of his most well-known works, the Art Tower in Mito in Ibaraki, Japan completed in 1990. Rising like an electrical charge nearly 100m into the sky, this tower is part of an arts complex in Mito, Japan that includes a concert hall, theatre and a contemporary art gallery. The landmark geometric tower is based on the tetra-helix shape. The piece was commissioned by Mito City, located 120km from Tokyo, to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

He designed the Palau Sant Jordi at Montjuic, Barcelona, for the Barcelona Olympic Games also in 1990. This sporting arena has become a social, sporting and musical hub for the city – holding 24,000 in its concert hall. Sitting atop the Montjuic mountain, it is a friendly, curving form that sought to fuse influence of the east and west to create a new sense of international modernity. It also made sure to reach the highest technical achievement through modern engineering, including the use of mechanised materials for a flexible venue that is still central to the life of the city today.

Considered the highest architectural accolade, the annual Pritzker award honours ‘a living architect or architects 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’ and consists of a prize of $100,000 (US) and a bronze medallion.

Arata Isozaki wins the Prizker prize 2019

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

(Image credit: Kentaro Ohno / Yuko Honda)


For more information, visit the Pritzker Prize website

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.