A modern museum building with a series of sunken terraces in Japan.
The terraced museum of Ceramic Park Mino (2002) in Gifu, Japan, includes gallery spaces, conference rooms, tea houses, and a public workshop. Situated in a valley, it defers to the surrounding landscape and serves as an extension of the topography. Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki

The 87-year-old architect has designed more than 100 buildings around the world, with an uncommon degree of stylistic versatility.

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize—the field’s top honor.  Considered “the Nobel of architecture,” the Pritzker Prize is bestowed annually by Chicago’s Pritzker family through its Hyatt Foundation. The eight-person jury was chaired this year by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

In its citation, the jury wrote of 87-year-old Isozaki: “Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo but challenged it. And in his search for meaningful architecture, he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations, reflect his constant evolution, and are always fresh in their approach.”

This is the fourth year out of the past 10 in which an architect or architects from Japan have carried off the $100,000 award, continuing a recent trend away from giving the prize to a European or American “starchitect.”

Arata Isozaki was born in Ōita, on the island of Kyushu, in 1931; he was a teenager when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. “My first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities,” he said. He studied architecture at the University of Tokyo and apprenticed under famed architect Kenzo Tange (winner of the Pritzker in 1987).

Ōita Prefectural Library, 1962-66. Isozaki’s career began with the postwar rebuilding of Japan. The exposed-concrete Ōita Prefectural Library (renamed Ōita Art Plaza) in his hometown was one of the architect’s first commissions. (Photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto)
Kitakyushu Central Library, 1973-74. This library in Fukuoka, Japan, was inspired by Étienne-Louis Boullée’s grand, unrealized design for the French National Library in 1785. (Rendering courtesy of Arata Isozaki and Associates)

Isozaki broke out as an international figure in the 1980s and early ’90s, designing the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1987); the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, for the 1992 Summer Olympics; and the Team Disney Orlando building in Florida (1991).

The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1981-86. The museum in downtown L.A. was the architect’s first international commission. Its sunken design of monumental red sandstone contrasts with the area's high-rise buildings. (Photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto)
Palau Sant Jordi, 1983-1990. Designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Palau Sant Jordi, on the Montjuïc hillside, remains Barcelona’s largest covered sports facility with a capacity of 17,000. (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)

More recent works by Isozaki include the Ceramic Park Mino in Gifu, Japan; Shenzhen Cultural Center; the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha; Shanghai Symphony Hall; and Allianz Tower in Milan.

Qatar National Convention Center, 2004-2011. On the building’s exterior, massive, stylized tree branches shield the glass façade and support the roof canopy. (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)
Shanghai Symphony Hall, 2008-2014. Located in Shanghai’s French Concession and designed in collaboration with acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, the hall rests on springs to offset vibrations from the subway below. (Photo courtesy of Chen Hao)
Allianz Tower, 2003-2014. The thin, 50-story Allianz Tower is a new landmark for Milan. Its triple-glazed curtain wall is curved in sections to reduce glare; four gold buttresses on the outside of the tower brace it. (Photo courtesy of Alessandra Chemollo)

Isozaki’s architecture is impossible to boil down to a signature style: It has taken on aspects of Metabolism, Brutalism, High Tech, Postmodernism, and vernacular traditions over the six decades of a prolific career. “Clearly, he is one of the most influential figures in contemporary world architecture on a constant search, not afraid to change and try new ideas,” wrote the jury, who also hailed him for his contributions to architectural theory and city planning and his promotion of younger architects.

Nevertheless, the choice of the venerable Isozaki stands in contrast to recent Pritzker picks who are known for their socially driven and humanitarian designs, such as Chilean social-housing innovator Alejandro Aravena, honored in 2016, and Shigeru Ban, the 2014 winner, who has designed for disaster survivors and refugees. “The Pritzker has been swinging wildly in tone with its choices in recent years,” as critic Alexandra Lange noted in Curbed.

Isozaki will receive his award in May in a ceremony at Versailles, near Paris.

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