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Toyo Ito Up-Close

While in Hong Kong for Business of Design Week 2013 (BODW), Japanese architect Toyo Ito spoke with Giulia Callegari about architecture and nature, the media, winning the Pritzker prize, and more.

Toyo Ito Up-Close

Toyo Ito

Taipei World Trade Centre Square Landscape Design

One of the topics you were at BODW to discuss was Nature. How so?

Modern architecture is very separated and cut out from nature. I’ve always been thinking about how architecture can connect with nature – how people that use an architectural space can actually become more free. For me, there are several ways of being close to nature: one is literally creating a space that is connected to nature, the other is using geometry to create a space that is fluid, connected to the outside.

Toyo Ito

Serpentine Pavilion © Serpentine Gallery

Thinking about your 1997 essay Tarzan and the media jungle… Where do you think we stand on that today given the incredible growth in media consumption amongst the younger generation?

In my essay I talked about how a human being has two bodies: one is the physical body we use to drink water, wake up… perform very primitive actions, the other one is what I call the subconscious body which is our soul. Architecture today really needs to stimulate and work around both bodies – actually my architecture is still focused on that. I feel it can never be one or the other body. There needs to be harmony between the bodies and how that harmony is reflected in architecture is one my biggest focus.

Toyo Ito

Tod’s Omotesando Building © Toyo Ito & Associates

Your project in 2011 “Home for all” helped a lot of people during a difficult time. What is your point of view in terms of what architecture can do for others?

Right now in Japan everybody in the government say they want to put a lot of investment into the revitalisation of the North-West of Japan, but this revitalisation is not necessarily helping the people that were stricken by the disaster… I think architecture should be more hands-on, it should be more about the people, it should be about connecting with human beings one-to-one and bringing them together. I think this is what we are trying to do with “Home for all” even if the scale is very very small.


White U

You seem to prefer small-scale projects to large-scale ones. How so?

I think there are a lot of limitations when it comes to high-rise buildings. We design towers of course but there are a lot of technical difficulties… Also people are used to living very close to the ground and in these kinds of projects I feel we can experiment more. For instance: I would love to work in China more, but often the proposals we get from them are very large-scale, to the point where they would be very hard to control.

Toyo Ito

Silver Hut

Back to the place where you live, where is it now that you’ve abandoned the Silver Hut?

I moved out after my wife died and my daughter got married. Now I live in a very normal and ‘closed’ apartment. I never know whether it’s raining or sunny outside… I feel very shut off from nature. This contrast between the two houses makes me wonder how long I can still live in this sort of environment…


Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture

Transparency and light has played a very important role in your body of work. Is it still the case?

Transparency used to be very important. Now I feel it’s crucial to focus on the energy we can give to people who use the building, so I feel architecture needs to be more than ‘something pretty’, so to speak.

Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture

Since winning the 2013 Pritzker prize, what has changed for you?

There are more lectures I have to attend! But I don’t see more funding or more projects coming my way for now…

Toyo Ito

Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum

In the next generation of Japanese architects, who do you see as an emerging talent?

Of course one of them is Fujimoto, and then I see many many young architects who worked with me in the “Home for all” project. I think they are blooming and represent incredibly well Japanese architecture today.

Toyo Ito

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