On the evening of May 29, Toyo Ito accepted the 38th Pritzker Architecture Prize at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on what would have been the president’s 96th birthday. Ito, who started his studio in Tokyo 42 years ago, had long been considered a leading candidate for the award. His ethereal architecture reexamines the relationship between structure and enclosure, as seen in his Sendai Mediatheque (2001), Tod’s Omotesando (2004), and his Tama Art University Library (2007). “Modernist architecture built a wall between itself and nature and relied on technology to create artificial environments with no connection to nature,” the architect told the gathering. “My work has always been about tearing down this wall.”
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For the occasion, more than 300 guests assembled in I.M. Pei’s white-concrete-and-dark-glass, wedge-shaped library. Built in 1979, the building is dramatically perched along the waterfront of Columbia Point on the far reaches of the city. Many arrived via coach buses, which were speeded through rush hour traffic by police on motorcycles.
Although the event had been preceded by controversy over Denise Scott Brown not getting the Pritzker along with her husband and partner Robert Venturi in 1991, the evening was celebratory in nature. When asked about the Pritzker Architecture Prize Committee’s response to a petition to recognize Scott Brown for her contribution to their firm’s work, one former juror replied, “Hey, this is a party!” Nonetheless, some people in attendance signaled their sympathy with the petition in subtle ways. For example, Barry Bergdoll, head of the department of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, donned a black and white necktie designed by Venturi and Scott Brown.
At the podium, The Lord Palumbo, the Pritzker Prize jury chair, introduced Ito with a short speech, likening the architect to a fearless navigator steering the ship of innovation. Ito acknowledged many with whom he has worked, such as structural engineer Mutsuro Sasaki (who was in the audience), as well as his staff and former employee Kazuyo Sejima, another Pritzker laureate who was also present.
Explaining his design approach, Ito said, “I have always tried to push my architecture forward without allowing my style to remain static. I have done this in the interest both of architectural innovation and in order to attain a level of calmness.”