After honoring younger and lesser-known figures in recent years — including 49-year-old Chinese architect Wang Shu in 2012 — the Pritzker jury this year chose a well-established architect with 40 years of built work to his credit. For at least a decade Ito has been a presumed Pritzker front-runner.
Along with Tadao Ando, the 1995 Pritzker laureate, the 71-year-old Ito is the dean of Japanese architecture, though with his mop of black hair he looks many years younger. He is best known for his 2001 Sendai Mediatheque, a seven-story glass box of a building that was dramatically shaken, though only lightly damaged, by the Tohoku earthquake two years ago.
Like much of his work, it distills a series of complex technical breakthroughs into a spare, even-keeled finished product. The Mediatheque’s structural and electrical systems are bundled inside 13 vertical tubes, leaving library and exhibition spaces open and accessible from all sides and visible from the street through floor-to-ceiling glass.
Ito has designed museums, stadiums, houses and commercial buildings across Japan. His largest and most ambitious project to date, the 620,000 square-foot Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, is under construction in Taiwan and due to open next year.
He has also been a teacher and mentor to many Japanese architects. Two former associates in his office, Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, who run the firm SANAA, were the joint Pritzker winners in 2010. Recently Ito has been working with a group of Tokyo architects in their 40s to develop community centers for sections of northeast Japan hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami.
In a Skype interview from his Tokyo office, Ito expressed surprise at the news. “After a Chinese architect won last year and SANAA three years ago, I did not expect it would be me this time,” he said.
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