Architecture has always been a fascinating field, with its changing manifestations while facing the real world at the same time. The spaces people live in play an important role in the journeys and stories of their lives. The ultimate purpose of architecture is to create and build for people. In today’s fast pacing world, are architects forgetting their actual purpose while chasing the future? Toyo Ito, however, is one such architect who considers his purpose as an architect to create for the people first. His designs speak of the story, being made for those who lived in them. A 2013 Pritzker prize laureate, Toyo Ito is one of the most influential modern Japanese architects. With decades of experience in his practice, he still seeks to explore newer forms and technology while keeping in mind his original approach to architecture.
Early years (not into architecture at first)
Despite having a very creative and deep idea of architecture, Ito admits to not being interested in architecture as a young boy. The architecture was always around him, though, as his grandfather was a lumber dealer, and his father liked to draw plans for his friends’ houses.
He developed an interest in architecture when he attended the University of Tokyo, where he graduated in architecture in 1965. After working as an architect in the firm of Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates to gain enough experience, Toyo Ito founded his Tokyo-based office in 1971. His studio was named Urban Robot (Urbot), which was changed to Toyo Ito & Associates in 1979.
White U has an introverted, U-shaped design which separates the domain of the family from the outside world. It was demolished in 1997.
He started with designing smaller projects like houses in and around Tokyo. One of his first projects in 1971 was a home in a suburb of Tokyo, called “Aluminium House,” the structure consisted of a wooden frame completely covered in aluminium. His design made in 1976, for his sister’s residence called “White U” is one of his first widely noticed projects. Toyo Ito studied architecture when it was influenced by modernism. But according to him, modernism was trying to assert itself against nature which led him to question it and further develop his philosophies. Slowly and gradually with his designs, he tried to break the wall between architecture and nature, which he observed was prevalent in the buildings of that time.
The Tower of Winds features more than 1000 small lights and neon rings which change their colours according to the wind’s noise level and change their intensity according to its speed.
Of most of his work in the 1980s, Ito explains that he sought to go beyond conventional boundaries of architecture and what a building should be, through minimalism and a variety of forms. He also leaned towards developing lightness in architecture that resembles air and wind. One can see his style of expressing this lightness in many of his works of that time, such as the Tower of Winds in Yokohama.
According to Ito, the Sendai Mediatheque completed in 2001 was one of the biggest milestones in his career. The mediatheque offers public facilities for a variety of media for recreation and information like a library, theatre, as well as spaces for audio/visual facilities. Ito embodies this unique building program with a forest of 13 non-uniform tubes that go throughout the building.
Some of his firm’s other most well-known projects in Japan are Tama Art University Library and Tod’s Omotesandō Building, Tokyo. His international projects include the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (UK), International Museum of the Baroque (Mexico), National Taichung Theater (Taiwan), and College of Social Sciences (Taiwan).
Home for all
The home-for-all with natural wooden columns and spaces on stilts is designed to serve as a place for relief for the disaster victims
The Home-for-All initiative was set up after the earthquake and tsunami-affected areas in Tohoku within months in March 2011. A group of architects came together to design spaces to bring cities back from ground zero when affected by such calamities. Toyo Ito, along with fellow architects Riken Yamamoto, Kazuyo Sejima, Kengo Kuma and Hiroshi Naito, built small community centres along with acres of temporary housing that were built to replace the 250,000 homes that were destroyed. Ito mentions that it was an important turning point in his career when he realized this was when the true purpose of architecture was put to the test. These modest, low-cost wooden houses inspired by traditional Japanese structures were made to provide comfort and give hope to the affected people, being the true meaning of a home. There were public spaces designed, too, which would, in turn, bring up the spirit of the community as a whole.
Toyo Ito aims at architecture which goes beyond the conventional notion of being modern. In many of his interviews as well as lectures, Toyo Ito always emphasises on creating architecture that has a close relationship with nature. Nature played an important role in his growing years, as he lived in a region where the natural elements of the place dominated the life of the people there. He aims to create architectural elements which have a character inspired by nature and express the freedom and variety of our surroundings. One can see distinct inspiration in his designs, the tree-like columns in Sendai Mediatheque being one such example.
According to him, architecture will always keep changing but what remains the same is its purpose. Architecture is about creating a space for people to be in. Even though the virtual world is on par with the real world today, he says that our existence as a being will still stay. It is this sensation of reality that architects should think about while creating for the future.
He says that architecture is simple, it is not about the building and what it looks like, but about the people that live in them. Architects tend to focus on the way. Today architecture has become a chase for originality and expression. When architects design their buildings, they often focus on the overall image, form or expression. But Ito starts within his buildings, like a piece of closing that wrap around human beings. It starts with the humans themselves and then envelopes them layer by layer, to ultimately create a space. Architecture then could become a tangible experience, where you feel in the space, how you touch materials, textures, and surfaces, and so on.
A view of Sendai Mediatheque interiors where one can see the tree-like columns
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- zero = abundance. (2018). Toyo Ito and ‘Home-for-All’ (Minna-no-Ie) – Can People Shape Architecture? -. [online] Available at: https://www.interactiongreen.com/toyo-ito-home-for-all-minna-no-ie/.
- www.youtube.com. (n.d.). An Interview with Toyo Ito | Beijing Urban and Architecture Biennale 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMZMBnjDEVQ.
- WikiArquitectura. (n.d.). Home for All in Rikuzentakata – Data, Photos & Plans. [online] Available at: https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/home-for-all-in-rikuzentakata/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2022].