Toyo Ito is a renowned Japanese architect, best-known for his innovative designs and the creative uniqueness of his projects. His work has been awarded with a Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2013, the Pritzker Jury described Ito’s work by saying, that “his architecture projects an air of optimism, lightness, and joy and is infused with both a sense of uniqueness and universality.”
Toyo Ito was born on June 1, 1941, in Seoul, Korea, which was, at the time of his birth, regarded as the Japanese-occupied Korea. In 1943, Toyo, along with his mother and sister, migrated to Japan, and his father joined them a few years later. Toyo enrolled himself at the University of Tokyo, and in 1965, he graduated from there. He began his professional career by working as an apprentice under the leading architects of the Metabolist School, Kikutake Kiyonori.
In 1971, Toyo decided to leave Kikutake’s firm and venture out on his own, he established Urban Robot (UNRBOT) in Tokyo. Toyo began developing small scale projects, which focused on residential areas. Most famous amongst his early projects, is the White U house, which Toyo designed in 1976. He built this house to serve as a retreat for his sister, who was riddled with grief upon recent loss of her husband. Toyo designed her a reclusive house, built in a U shape, surrounded by a central courtyard, having no outward-facing window and decorated in white interior.
Gradually, Ito began signing large-scale, commercial projects, and he began experimenting with his designs a lot more, compared to his mechanical and cautious approach in the past. In 1986, he designed the Tower of the Winds in Yokohama, where he managed to transform a broken-down rubble of a concrete water tower into the magnificent building that stands there today. He added an aluminium plate to the structure, and embellished it with hundreds of lights that respond to wind speed and sound waves, and make the tower glow at night with constantly changing colors and patterns.
Ito’s magnum opus is indeed the Sendai Mediatheque, a versatile cultural centre completed in 2001. Toyo’s inspiration for this design came from a floating seaweed, the building has a 22,000 square metre structure that is transparent, and resembles a massive aquarium. The building has seven floors that stand on slanting columns that resemble strands of seaweed floating under the sea, there are no walls dividing the building, yet the design of the building serves its multipurpose, and the Sendai is host a great range of art and media exhibitions and collections.
Other remarkable projects designed by Ito include the Kao-hsiung National Stadium in Taiwan, which famous for its resemblance with a coiled snake due to its spiral-shaped roof and The Metropolitan Opera located in T’ai-chung, Taiwan, which resembles a gigantic sponge, and is designed as a maze of tunnels, rounded walls and hollow spaces.
Ito has been the recipient of several accolades and awards praising his work, in 2000, he was honored with a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale. Later, in 2006, he was presented the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects and in 2008, he was awarded the Friedrich Kiesler Prize for Architecture and Arts. In 2010, the Japan Art Association awarded him the Praemium Imperiale for his work in Architecture.