The extraordinary life and work of Arata Isozaki (1931 – 2022): Seven decades of visionary architecture
In December 2022, the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki, passed away at his home in Okinawa, aged 91. Known as a theorist as well as a practitioner, Isozaki leaves behind a seven-decade career in architecture, with more than 300 designs and 100 built structures on five continents. This article analyzes the extraordinary life and work of the Japanese grandmaster and presents a portrait of his innovative urban design concepts and buildings. Despite its diversity, the author suggests that his oeuvre can be categorized into four distinctly different phases, exemplifying how Isozaki constantly reinvented and challenged himself. Isozaki combined Eastern and Western philosophies like no other architect before him and had a significant influence on Chinese architecture. He also practiced in China, where he had an office in Shanghai (since 2000) and realized a series of important buildings, including the Shenzhen Cultural Center and Library, the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and the Shanghai Symphony Hall. The author is a former collaborator and project partner of Isozaki during the 1990s, and draws from close knowledge, first-hand observations, and conversations to comment the most relevant projects and adds background information. Isozaki’s work was concerned with formal and intellectual expressions; it is complex and highly personal in its interdisciplinary approach and absorption of a wide range of influences. For Isozaki, architecture was predominantly a cultural practice. Given that Isozaki has recently passed away and his oeuvre is now closed, the changed circumstances ask for a renewed focus and deeper interpretation of his remarkable, unusual legacy. He created original ideas, formal innovations, and versatile concepts for spaces that defy characterization as belonging to any single tendency or school of thought.
Adam, V. H. (2023). Brueckenschlag Zwischen Ost und West: Zum Tod von Arata Isozaki. Berlin: Bauwelt.
Banham, R. (1976). Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past. London: Thames and Hudson.
Betsky, A. (2019). Building Question Marks: Why Arata Isozaki Deserves a Pritzker Prize. USA: Architect Magazine.
Bognar, B. (1985). Contemporary Japanese Architecture, its Development and Challenge. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Carpo, M. (2017). The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 3.
Charitonidou, M. (2021). Rethinking Europe’s Position in the Formation of Architectural Histories: Is a Non-Eurocentric Narrative Possible? In: Proceedings of the III Congreso Internacional AhAU “Built and Thought: European and Transatlantic Correspondence in the Historiography of Architecture”, Madrid, Spain, June 1-3, 2021.
Chen, A. (2022). Comment in Private Conversation with the Author. Email exchange with the Author, 2023 Jan 12.
Cohen, J. L. (2012). The Future of Architecture since 1889. London: Phaidon Press.
Cook, S. P. (2023). Obituary: Arata Isozaki (1931-2022), Personal Communication with the Author, 2023 Jan 05.
Corkill, E. (2008, June 1). Arata Isozaki: Astonishing by design. Japan Times.
Curtis, W. J. R. (1986). Towards an authentic regionalism. In: HU Khan (ed.). MIMAR: Architecture and Development. Vol. 19. Singapore: Concept Media Ltd.
Drew, P. (1982). Architecture of Arata Isozaki. New York: Harper and Row.
Fletcher, S. B. (1896). History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. London: B.T. Batsford Publisher.
Frampton, K. (2007). Modern Architecture. A Critical History. 5th ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Futagawa, Y. (1983). GA Interview with Arata Isozaki. GA Document No. 8, p. 4-10.
GA Architect. (2000). Arata Isozaki 1991-2000. Vol. 1-4. Tokyo: GA Publishing.
GA Document. (2004). Document 77: Arata Isozaki. Tokyo: GA Publishing.
Giovanni, J. (2022, December 29). Arata Isozaki, prolific Japanese architect, dies at 91. New York Times.
Giovannini, J. (1986, August 17). Arata Isozaki: From Japan, a new wave of international architects. New York Times.
Isozaki, A. (1998). Four Decades of Architecture. New York: Universe Publishing.
Isozaki, A. (2005). Katsura: Imperial Villa, Electa. Milan: Electa.
Isozaki, A. (2006a). Japan-ness in Architecture. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
Isozaki, A. (2006b). About my method. In: Y Futagawa, (ed.). GA Contemporary Architecture, Vol. 03: Library. Tokyo: ADA Edita Tokyo, p. 206-207.
Isozaki, A. (2019). Video of Acceptance Speech, Pritzker Prize Ceremony on May 24, 2019. World Architecture, Versailles, France. Available from: https://worldarchitecture.org/article-links/eccff/watch-arata-isozaki-s-acceptance-speech-for-pritzker-prize-2019.html [Last accessed: 2023 Jan 04].
Isozaki, A. Available from: https://doi.org/www.isozaki.co.jp [Last accessed: 2023 Jan 04].
Jencks, C. (1984). The Story of Post-Modernism. New York: Rizzoli.
Kive, S. (2022). Digital methods for inquiry into the Eurocentric structure of architectural history surveys. In: EL Fry & E Canning (eds.). Perspectives on Data. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago. Available from: https://www.artic.edu/digital-publications/37/perspectives-on-data [Last accessed: 2023 Mar 10].
Kostof, S. (1985). A History of Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ku, S. P. (2011). Ruin as a paradigm of spatial conception. Journal of Environment and Art, 9, 36.
Leach, A. (2010). What is Architectural History? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Lehmann, S. (2017). Reappraising the visionary work of Arata Isozaki: Six decades and four phases. Arts, 6, 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts6030010
Lehmann, S., & Feireiss, K. (1994). Arata Isozaki: Towards the Third Generation Art Museum. Berlín: AEDES Gallery Exhibition Catalogue.
Mack, C. (2022). Digesting Metabolism: Artificial Land in Japan 1954-2022. Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz.
Murphy, B. (2022, December 30). Arata Isozaki, architect who melded styles of Japan and West. The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.
Muschamp, H. (1993, December 17). Review/architecture: Isozaki’s designs for an insecure postwar world. New York Times.
Oshima, K. T. (2009). Arata Isozaki. New York/London: Phaidon Press.
Pevsner, N. (1976). A History of Building Types. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rowe, C., & Koetter, F. (1978). Collage City. Cambrigdge: The MIT Press.
Schalk, M. (2014). The architecture of metabolism: Inventing a culture of resilience. Arts, 3, 279-297.
Stewart, D. B. (1991). Arata Isozaki 1960-1990 Architecture. Exhibition Catalogue. New York: Rizzoli.
Tanizaki, J. (1977). In Praise of Shadows. English Translation. UK: Leete’s Island Books.
Taut, B. (1934). The Modernity of the Katsura Imperial Villa after: Inoue, S. The Myth-Making of the Katsura Imperial Villa. Tokyo: Kodansha. (1997, in Japanese).
Taylor, J. (1976). The unreal architecture of Arata Isozaki. Progressive Architecture, 57(9), 72-83.
Thorne, M. (2019). Quoted from the Laudation at the Pritzker Prize Ceremony on May 24, 2019. Available online: https:// www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/arata-isozaki [Last accessed on 2023 Jan 04].
Weiss, A. S. (2013). Zen Landscapes: Perspectives on Japanese Gardens and Ceramics. London: Reaktion Books.
Wingfield-Hayes, R. (2023). Japan was the Future but It’s Stuck in the Past. London: BBC News.