Yesterday, 71-year-old Japanese architect Toyo Ito was named the winner of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession's highest honor. He joins luminaries like Philip Johnson, Richard Meier, Herzog & de Meuron, and Zaha Hadid on the list of laureates, and became the sixth Japanese architect to take home the award in its 34-year history. The long under-appreciated Ito—who, by his own admission, does not adhere to any particular style—gained a degree of international fame when one of this seminal works, the Sendai Mediatheque (above), survived the devastating Japanese earthquake of 2011. The architecture critics seem in agreement that this decision represents a return to the Pritzker jury judging architects based on their entire canon instead of recent masterworks, but Ito's career is full of both masterpieces and bizarre facts. Below: seven of the most interesting tidbits.
1) He once wanted to be a pro baseball player.
When Toyo Ito was a boy, born in 1941 to Japanese industrialist parents in then-occupied Korea, he had no noted interest in architecture, instead preferring to dream of becoming a professional baseball player. It wasn't until college in Tokyo that he found his calling as an architect, despite growing up in a home designed by a master modernist. 2) He lived in a house designed by a Breuer apprentice.
After the death of Ito's father, his mother moved the family to Tokyo, and a few years later commissioned Yoshinobu Ashihara to design their home. Ashihara had previously been employed in the studio of noted modernist Marcel Breuer. (An aside: tarchitect Richard Meier, who went on to win the Pritzker in 1984, also worked in Breuer's studio.) The house was a simple woodframe structure, but Ashihara would go on to design some of Japan's most recognizable landmarks, including the Okayama
Symphony Hall. 3) One of his glassy designs totally broke.
In 2007, Ito designed a fountain for the Italian city of Pescara, a giant glass block with a red image of a wine glass inside (above). It cost more than $1M to design and construct. Just two months after its celebrated installation, it broke. A crack developed vertically along the length of the glass tower and the water ceased to flow. Later investigations would reveal that faulty fabrication by the Italian glassmaker, Clax Italia, was responsible, but Ito's reputation certainly took a hit.
4) His apprentices won the Pritkzer, too—but before he did.
In 2010, fellow Japanese architects Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, the principles behind the firm SANAA and former associates at Ito's firm, were awarded the Pritzker Prize. Nishizawa and Sejima won for high-profile projects like the New Museum in NYC (2007), which may have given them a leg up with American Pritzker jurors—at least compared to the largely Asia-centric work of their former boss. If Ito felt slighted, it showed in his next move. 5) He designed a museum dedicated to his own work...
While universally recognized as a humble and self-effacing man, Ito made the interesting choice in 2011 to open the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, a museum dedicated to his own work, in a compound he designed, of course. Set on the Japanese island of Omishima facing the Inland Sea, the main building at the museum is a structure specifically designed to resemble a ship (above).
6) ... And he built a copy of his house there.
Ito duplicated one of his former Tokyo homes, known as Silver Hut, on the grounds of this museum (above). The 1,800-square-foot structure has been dedicated to educational space for children, along with an open pavilion for admiring the sea, all crafted in Ito's signature minimalist aesthetic. In total, the museum is pretty odd, particularly considering Ito built it to honor himself, but at least it seems to have upped his international profile.
7) He has designed products for dogs.
At least the new Pritzker winner has a lighter side, as demonstrated with his 2012 design for the Architecture of Dogs project, curated by Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara. His rolling wooden dog bed entry (above) probably didn't help to sway the Pritzker jury, but at least it balanced out that egotistical personal museum.
· Toyo Ito 2013 Laureate [Pritzker Prize]