Architect Toyo Ito has defined architecture as “clothing” for urban dwellers, a metaphor that distills Ito’s approach to design. “For me,” he says, “the task of the architect is to release people from… restrictive frameworks by creating spaces in which they feel at ease and in which they can attain some degree of freedom.”
According to Ito, his architecture seeks “to erase conventional meaning…through minimalist tactics, developing lightness in architecture that resembles air and wind.” These ideas of fluidity pervade his work, particularly the critically-acclaimed Sendai Mediatheque (completed in 2001), a cube-shaped glass-walled structure whose floors are penetrated by 13 “tree-like” steel pipe superstructures that Ito calls “tubes,” which distribute the “energies” of light, air, water, sound and information throughout the building’s open floor plan. Replacing the archetypal ideas of a public art museum or library housing a collection of paintings or books with “a completely new concept of architecture,” Ito named it a “mediatheque,” wherein an array of state-of-the-art electronic media can flexibly serve different cultural functions.
“At its best architecture is alchemical, transforming the pragmatics of site, structure, program, and enclosure into something never before experienced. It takes us beyond ourselves and helps us aspire to inhabit and contribute to a more evolved world.” said Kim Tanzer, dean of the U.Va. School of Architecture. “Toyo Ito’s work has this quality—both ethereal and utterly grounded, fantastical and practical—his architecture helps us to imagine new forms of human experience. His meaningful use of emerging digital tools, combined with his sophisticated deployment of non-Cartesian rationality, will inspire architects for generations to come.”
After studying architecture at the University of Tokyo, Ito worked in the office of prominent Japanese architect Kiyonori Kikutake until founding his own Tokyo-based office, Urban Robot, in 1971, later renamed Toyo Ito & Associates. Ito’s practice has completed a wide range of projects, from small-scale housing to seminal public works, including the temporary (2002) Serpentine Pavilion Gallery in London’s Hyde Park, the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, and Taiwan’s National Stadium, built to host the 2009 World Games.
Ito has won numerous international awards including the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Architectural Institute of Japan Prize for the Sendai Mediatheque, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for the 8th Venice Biennale International Exhibition, and the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize, one of the discipline’s highest honors. His works have been the subject of museum exhibitions in nine countries.
Ito has also served as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, Columbia University, the University of California-Los Angeles, Kyoto University, Tama Art University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 2011, he constructed the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, which showcases his past projects and serves as a workshop for young architects.