“[M]y first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”
Like many of his generation, Arata Isozaki was strongly shaped by the destruction of Japanese cities during World War II. He studied architecture at the University of Tokyo, graduating in 1954 and working for Kenzō Tange—who was then working on plans for Tokyo’s future growth—until 1963. While others influenced by Tange, including Kiyonori Kikutake and Kisho Kurokawa, celebrated the possibilities of industrial society, Isozaki positioned himself in opposition to this, instead theorizing an aesthetic to give form to the concept of obliteration, which he labeled “twilight gloom.” His Re-ruined Hiroshima project of 1968 envisions large structures built on the remains of the decimated city; these futuristic megastructures, like Hiroshima itself, are shown fallen into ruin. This polemical project powerfully illustrated the tension between ambition and trauma that accompanied the postwar transformation of Japan.
Isozaki’s early buildings, including the Oita Prefectural Library (1962–66) and the Oita branch of the Fukuoka Mutual Bank (1967), were heavily gridded. He used the uniformity of the grid to conceal the varying forms of these structures’ individual spaces, hiding the size, shape, and arrangement of the rooms and circulation routes inside the buildings. This style reached its apotheosis in the Gunma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (1974), which takes the form of a cube paneled in aluminum, containing and separating artwork from the outside world. Following this, Isozaki’s style shifted, and he began exploring concrete vaults in his designs for the Kitakyushu Municipal Central Library (1974) and the Fujimi Country Club (1974). The trajectory of his work is characterized by both rupture and continuity and by his ongoing experimentation with form. With the advent of architectural postmodernism, he began to playfully reference Neoclassical tropes, as in his Tsukuba Civic Center (1983). In its large plaza and building complex, he employed both Japanese and Western motifs to create a space rich with dramatic material and spatial contrasts.
The later 1980s saw Isozaki gain increasing prominence outside Japan, leading to important international commissions to design the Museum of Contemporary Art Grand Avenue (MOCA Grand) in Los Angeles (1987) and Team Disney in Orlando, Florida (1991). He continues to design and remains a vital voice in global architecture.
Note: Opening quote is from Giovannini, Joseph. “Arata Isozaki, Prolific Japanese Architect, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, December 29, 2022, sec. Arts. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/29/arts/design/arata-isozaki-dead.html.
Anna Blair, 12-Month Intern, Department of Architecture and Design, 2016