Launch Slideshow

Toyo Ito: Notable Works

Toyo Ito: Notable Works

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    Toyo Ito, Hon. FAIA.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Koji Taki

    White U (house), Nakano-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 1976.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Silver Hut (house) Nakano-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 1984.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Tower of Winds, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa, Japan, 1986.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, Yatsushiro-shi, Kumamoto, Japan, 1991.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Mikio Kamaya

    Dome in Odate, Odate-shi, Akita, Japan, 1997.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Nacasa and Partners

    Sendai Mediatheque, Sendai-shi, Miyagi, Japan, 2000.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Sendai Mediatheque, Sendai-shi, Miyagi, Japan, 2000.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Hiroshi Ueda

    Matsumoto Peforming Arts Center, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano, Japan, 2004.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Nacasa and Partners

    Tod’s Omotesando Building, Shibuya, Tokyo, 2004.

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    Courtesy Deane Madsen

    Tod’s Omotesando Building, Shibuya, Tokyo.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan, 2006.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan, 2006.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Tama Art University Library, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo, Japan, 2007.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Tomio Ohashi

    Tama Art University Library, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo, Japan, 2007.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    Za-Koenji Public Theatre, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 2008.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects

    Za-Koenji Public Theatre, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 2008.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Fu Tsu Construction Co.

    Main Stadium for The World Games 2009, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2009.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Fu Tsu Construction Co.

    Main Stadium for The World Games 2009, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2009.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Rendering by kuramochi+oguma

    Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, Taichung, Taiwan (in progress).

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    Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, Taichung, Taiwan (in progress).

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Daici Ano

    Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Steel Hut, Imabari-shi, Ehime, Japan, 2011.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Daici Ano

    Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Steel Hut, Imabari-shi, Ehime, Japan, 2011.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Daici Ano

    Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture, Silver Hut, Imabari-shi, Ehime, Japan, 2011.

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    Courtesy Toyo Ito & Associates Architects / Photo by Yoshiaki Tsutsui

    Toyo Ito, Hon. FAIA.

But looking for art-historical roots in Ito's work is a trap: Was a touch of Kahn the starting point for the diaphragm arches of the Tama Art University Library (Tokyo, 2007)? Is there a smidge too much late-breaking Decon in his Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (London, 2002)?—and it misses the point. Ito is too good an architect to saddle himself with a signature look or suite of effects, too smart to get tangled up in the style game. That is, too often, the easy way out for architects, one favored by no small number of those deemed Pritzker-worthy by juries in other years. Adopting a strong style can be a shortcut to success, but it is also a choice architects make out of fear, to limit what can be the overwhelming press of questions that bears on any new design. What form should a building take? What should it look like? How will I arrange the plan? The answers are infinite—horrifying!—but relying on style opens the way to the easy ones. Whatever motivated the jury to premiate him now, what sets Ito apart has been his refusal over his forty-plus-year career to limit his work, to make it easy on himself. As jury member (and 2002 Pritzker laureate) Glenn Murcutt, Hon. FAIA, pointed out in a statement, Ito's architecture "has not remained static and has never been predictable."

This is an understatement. Very little appears to connect the Za-Koenji Public Theatre, completed in Tokyo in 2008, and the forthcoming Taichung Metropolitan Opera House in Taiwan, though the two buildings have kindred programs, and construction on each began in the same year. Even within a single project—such as with the two pavilions of the architecture museum that bears his name on an island in Japan's Inland Sea—Ito's architecture can run from light, rational, thin-membraned vaults to the sort of brooding, rusted-steel chunk of a windowless head-scratcher that would have made John Hejduk smile. What in Ito's work presaged the glooping blob of a roof that drapes the rigid plan of his Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall in Gifu, Japan (2006)? Maybe the metal vaults that define the spaces of his Yatsushiro Municipal Museum (1991)—cold and sharp, but also attempting to billow? Maybe?

I remember that last building well, the only Ito building I've been able to see in the flesh, as a conceptual and constructional mess. All the better: Mistakes are a sign that an architect is doing something right. In its variety, in its ambition, even in its moments of mediocrity, Ito's work gives us a living picture of a true designer at work: laboring to solve problems, learning, perhaps growing, sometimes pulling it all together with genius, often falling short, but always, in making the decision to reject the comfort of a fixed style, brave. It is a momentous decision for any architect, to take that more difficult path, and for Toyo Ito it has been costly. Had he picked one style and run with it, a man of such obvious talent, he might have gotten his Pritzker long ago.

Visit works by Toyo Ito in ARCHITECT Magazine's Project Gallery.