Archi-news. Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito

Since many decades Toyo Ito is an « avant-garde » Japanese architect. His recent nomination to the 2013 Pritzker Prize confirms the worldwide interest for his work, at the crossing of modernism, tradition and ultimate construction techniques.

Close to the Kazuo Shinoara approach, which developed the idea of a metaphysical architecture, Toyo Ito (born in 1941) uses technological materials whilst reflecting the essence of the collective Japanese culture. If most of the architectural works tend inherently towards form, Toyo Ito’s is different by its way to open up, merge and shade off limits.

After studying at the Tokyo University (1965) and a first experience with the architect Kiyonori Kikutake, he opens his own agency in 1971 named URBOT (Urban Robot) and changed to Toyo Ito & Associates in 1979. It is the period of small dwellings projects. Right from the beginning, his constructions aim to capture the light whilst playing with it. Without any opening towards the street, the house White U is turned towards a patio without any vegetation. The white walls are seen as screens with light and shade games. Later the architect tests fine structures. During this period the architect dematerializes the form. The Silver Hut (1948) he is proposing for himself is deconstructed but its steel structure becomes visible offering its fragile aspect.

The third period is dominated by the concept of «Electronic Flees Garden » as Toyo Ito named it himself. On this occasion he develops all the opportunities offered by Electronics, namely the Yokohama Tower of Winds (1986), his first public building project. Serving as a ventilation tower for an underground commercial centre, the structure uses photosensitive glass reacting to the wind’s speed and direction. He likes buildings with particular attention given to sensory fragility of the « built skin »

In the years 1990, his interest goes to the study of new systems to create fluid environments and also about what could be called »intelligent skin ». In the Matsuyama ITM or the Aoyama F building (small office buildings with mainly large outside glazed surfaces), some essential parts of the construction –such as the technical elements and the structure- become actors to a multi-size game of surfaces and spaces. The walls, floors, ceilings dematerialize themselves as soon as the glass and the materials composing the openings or the screens give birth to an unbelievable range of reflects. « Architecture as such, the physical architecture is not very important. We need new transparencies he said some time ago. »

The fleetingness concepts, which appeared in the use of the materials, remind in a certain way of High Tech. However, it concerns the interest for the skin concept as a separation between a person and the outside world. The Pao concept (literally « wrapped » to serve as basis to the Silver Hut) is also in connection with the Yatsushiro and Nagano museums. Later, aware of the city changes, he abandons Pao.

His most famous project is certainly the Sendai Mediatheque, built after winning a contest in 1995. The Mediatheque is composed of three elements: a flat concrete slab with six square paving stones, « pipes »- thirteen elements looking like trees vertically penetrating in these paving stones – and a « skin » separating the inside from the outside of the building. This symbolic project, which took six years to materialize, is a turning point in his architectural approach. Conceptual more than formalist, the main proposal is to break the ideas received from the archetypal museum. Let’s note that the building resisted remarkably to the earthquake causing the Fukushima tsunami.

Then, Toyo Ito became an architect with an international reputation, leading projects at the beginning of the years 2000 in Asia, Europe, North and South America. One of those is the National Stadium in Kaoshiung (Taiwan) built for the 2009 World Games. Almost all the structures are covered with solar panels. Its open extremity and its inclination let the summer wind cool down the stadium. By computerized software the shaded areas were chosen to efficiently protect the spectators against the sun. Other projects follow throughout the world but it is mainly in his country that he continues his work.

After the March 11th 2011 earthquake, he develops with a group of other Japanese architects the « Home-for-All » concept, emergency service with a little more humanity than the classic shelters. At that moment he reconsiders the fundamental architecture principals by his social responsibility approach. Recently Toyo Ito also thought of his legacy, with the architecture museum bearing his name on the small island of Omishima. Opened in 2011, the museum presents his work and is used by young architects as a workshop: the main building « Hut Steel » and the « Silver Hut », reproducing the architect’s old house built in 1984 in Tokyo.

Toyo Ito, who in his youth wanted to be a baseball champion, finally found the right direction - and what a career !- even if he thinks that he chose architecture because he had no other option « as it was the only direction open to me in view of my poor results at school »

1) Toyo Ito, Pritzker Architecture Prize 2013
Photo © Yoshiaki Tsutsui

2) White U (1975-76), Nakano-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Photo © Koji Taki

3) Silver Hut (1982­1984), (rebuilt 2006-2011 for the Toyo Ito museum) Nakano-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Photo © Tomio Ohashi

4) Tower of Winds (1986), Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa, Japan
Photo © Tomio Ohashi

5) Musée Municipal Yatsushiro (1988-1991), Kumamoto, Japan
Photo © Tomio Ohashi

6) Sendai Mediatheque (1995-2001), Miyagi, Japan
Photo © Nacasa & Partners Inc.

7) Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (2000—2004), Nagano, Japan
Photo © Hiroshi Ueda

8) Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall (2004—2006), Kakamigahara-shi, Japan

9) The Taichung Metropolitan Opera House (2005), Taichung, Taiwan R.O.C.

10) Stade National de Kaohsiung (2006—2009), Taiwan
Photo © Fu Tsu Construction Co., Ltd.

11) Toyo Ito Architecture Museum (2006—2011), Imabari-shi, Ehime, Japan
Photo © Daici Ano

1) Toyo Ito

2) White U

3) Silver Hut

4) Tower of Winds

5) Musée Municipal Yatsushiro

6) Sendai Mediatheque

7) Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre

8) Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall

9) The Taichung Metropolitan Opera House

10) Stade National de Kaohsiung

11) Toyo Ito Architecture Museum

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