In a decision likely to shock no one and impress few with its daring, the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded to Toyo Ito, Hon. FAIA.
The choice of Ito is a sound one, even obvious, and unimpeachable in the manner of previous awards to Richard Rogers, Hon. FAIA (2007); Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA (1999); and Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA (1998). Like Ito, those past laureates were conscientious architects with a deep record of built work who became outsized figures on the international scene and were given their Pritzkers only after a lifetime of innovation and accomplishment. But as in the selection of Jørn Utzon, Hon. FAIA, in 2003 (perhaps to combat the perception that he was a one-hit wonder) or Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, in 2004 (widely seen as doubly political: a move to break up an old boys' club and a response to the war in her native Iraq), there may be other factors at play. Is the choice of Ito a corrective measure by the Pritzker jury, three years after a pair of his former employees, the talented but still green Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (doing business as SANAA), received the prize?
If so, there's a whiff of justice in the pick. And it doesn't make Ito any less deserving of the award that has come to be known as architecture's highest honor.
Toyo Ito's career began in 1965, the year he graduated from the architecture program at the University of Tokyo and got a job working in the office of Kiyonori Kikutake, Hon. FAIA. Along with Kenzo Tange (who won the Pritzker in 1987), Kikutake was an active force behind the birth and growth of Metabolism, a school that Rem Koolhaas (Pritzkered in 2000), in his recent book on the subject, proffered as "the last movement that changed architecture." Active in the 1960s and '70s, the Metabolists cloaked an interest in safeguarding city life from natural disaster and overpopulation—that is, saving the world—in an architectural language that merged a Bucky Fuller–esque faith in technology, with hints of Archigram sass as well as the obsessions with modularity and the béton-brut megastructuralism that came to define the speculative city-building of the era. That Ito chose Urban Robot as the name of his firm when he first went out on his own in 1971 is a sign of sympathy with the somewhat older cadre of Japanese architects who promoted Metabolism, and it is possible to see even in his more recent work examples of the persistent influence of that style. Ito's Sendai Mediatheque, completed in 2000 in Miyagi, Japan, is perhaps his best known and most celebrated project; it deploys columnar structural webs penetrating the floor planes in a manner that hearkens to Metabolist ideals, including "The Big Roof," the pavilion that Kenzo Tange designed for the Osaka Exposition in 1970, the high temple of Metabolism and a benchmark of the style.