The Pritzker Prize is the most prestigious award in the field of architecture. Since 1979, every year the committee nominates one architect who has made significant contributions to the fields of art and architecture. In 2019, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki was the 46th recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet1
Arata Isozaki_©www.memphis-milano.comarata-isozaki

Born on 10th July 1931 in Oita; a town on Kyushu island of Japan; Arata Isozaki was 14 years when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. 

“When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down. Across the shore, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up near ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”

Isozaki was one of the most accomplished postwar architects, and most of his works were deeply affected and impacted by the ongoing world events of that time. He graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Department of Architecture and Faculty Engineering in 1954. Isozaki began his architectural career in Kenzo Tange’s office (1987 Pritzker Prize Laureate). As Kenzo Tange’s protege, he worked closely with him on various design projects, also involving urban plans for Tokyo. In 1963, he set up his practice – Arata Isozaki & Associates. 

During this time, Japan was going through uncertain and difficult times of change after it was released from the Allied Occupation. It was just after the World War and the country was experiencing the aftereffects of the global war. 

“In order to find the most appropriate way to solve these problems, I could not dwell upon a single style, change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style,” says Isozaki.

Arata Isozaki has designed over a hundred buildings throughout his career. But flipping through the pages of his portfolio, one wouldn’t find a common or signature design style. He has explored several architectural and design styles, each exploration best suited for the existing context. His structures are dynamic, geometrically straightforward, yet full of thought and purpose, and exist in a variety of sizes and shapes.

After the end of World War Two, an urbanist movement surfaced in Japan, known as ‘Metabolism.’ The Metabolism focused on the concept of biological growth in architecture, indicating that the city and its structures are both living beings that develop in tandem. Architecture was now viewed as a living thing in perpetual flux, a movement capable of reflecting a dynamic world in its design. In the postwar era, architects involved in this movement moved away from architecture defined by functionality and toward a human-centric architecture that focused on relationships with humans and their mobility. The focus was on creating utopic cities after the destruction of the war.

In 1962, he created a proposal for a futurist, utopian city titled “City in the Air.” It was based on the concept of the transformation of cities from one form to other, constantly, like a living creature. City in the Air is an idea that involves hovering capsules atop cylindrical and modular megastructures. These structures allow for the growth and restructuring of urban space by adding or eliminating units of capsules in order to cater to the requirements of residents in real-time. Meanwhile, the tower’s foundation resembled massive bomb craters, an allusion to the clouds of smoke created during the US bombing during World War Two.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet2
City in the Air: The fabric of Tokyo which existed at that time can be seen under the megastructures near the ground line_©

When ‘City in the Air’ was proposed, Tokyo had limited the height of buildings to 31 metres. Concerning this limitation and his project, Isozaki said – 

“Tokyo is hopeless…I am leaving everything below 30 meters to others. If they think they can unravel the mess in this city, let them try. I will think about architecture and the city above 30 meters. An empty lot of 10 square meters is all I need on the ground. I will erect a column there, and that column will be both a structural column and a channel for vertical circulation.”

The proposal includes a megastructure that hovers over the existing city.

Isozaki was deeply involved and inspired by the ideas of the Metabolism Movement, and that can be seen in his early projects.

Oita Prefectural Library, Oita, Japan | Arata Isozaki


The design of the Oita Prefectural Library can be described as Late Corbusier. It has hints of early brutalism with its exposed concrete square tube ends. 

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet3
Oita Prefectural Library_©
Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet4
Oita Prefectural Library, now Oita Art Centre_©

Kitakyushu Central Library, Fukuoka, Japan

Year: 1974

This design showcases the curves and robustness often seen in Isozaki’s work.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet5
Kitakyushu Central Library_©

Museum of Modern Art, Gunma | Arata Isozaki

Year: 1974

The design showcases exposed concrete blocks. It has a minimal aesthetic to make sure the design of the building highlights the art it houses inside. This building for MoMA was built in the same year as the Kitakyushu Central Library. But, both the structures have entirely different design languages. This is a testament to Isozaki’s brilliance.

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet6
Museum of Modern Art in Gunma_©

Art Tower, Mito, Japan

Year: 1990

The tetra helix tower, which is made up of fifty-six triangular panels in various orientations, was inspired by Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column (1938).

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner: Arata Isozaki - Sheet7
Mito Art Tower_©

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California, USA

This was Isozaki’s first international project. The building was constructed with red sandstone as a purposeful contrast against its context of high rise buildings. It has a barrel-vaulted library and copper-clad pyramids.

Museum of Contemporary Art_©

ALLIANZ Tower, Italy | Arata Isozaki

Year: 2015

As the years went by, Isozaki was seen adapting his unique design style to match the design language of the ongoing period. Contemporary architecture is distinguished by the use of materials like glass and concrete, and the use of technology to erect high rise buildings like this one.

Allianz Tower_©

His work spans six decades and apart from his architectural contributions, he also made numerous contributions to the field of urbanism through the ways of writing theoretical and conceptual texts. His works also include philosophy, visual art, design, music, films, and plays. He has played a very crucial role in realising the ideas of young architects all over the world through his critical writings and as a jury member for significant architecture competitions. 

Throughout his career, Isozaki has received various accolades, including the Architectural Institute of Japan’s Annual Prize in 1974, the RIBA Gold Medal in 1986, and the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award in 1992. 

“His architecture rests on profound understanding, not only of architecture but also of philosophy, history, theory, and culture. He has brought together East and West, not through mimicry or as a college, but through the forging of new paths. He has set an example of generosity as he supports other architects and encourages them in competitions or through collaborative works. For all these reasons, the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury has selected Arata Isozaki as the 2019 Laureate.” – Jury Citation


  1. Allen, Katherine. “Arata Isozaki Named 2019 Pritzker Prize Laureate.” ArchDaily, 5 Mar. 2019,  Accessed 6 Apr. 2022. 
  2. “Arata Isozaki | the Pritzker Architecture Prize.”, 2019,  Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.
  3. “15 Iconic Projects by Arata Isozaki.” RTF | Rethinking the Future, 24 July 2019, . Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.
  4. —. “Arata Isozaki: The Man of the East and the West Wins Pritzker Prize 2019.” RTF | Rethinking the Future, 6 Mar. 2019, . Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.
  5. María Francisca González. “The City in the Air by Arata Isozaki.” ArchDaily, 8 Mar. 2019, . Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.
  6. WA Contents. “10 Significant Projects of Arata Isozaki.” World Architecture Community, World Architecture Community, 6 Mar. 2019, Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

Anandita is an Urban Design student at CEPT University. An amateur with a mobile-camera and a notes app, she loves exploring whatever city she gets to visit. Her keen interest in architecture, the built environment and a love for all things words has led her to delve into architectural journalism.