The work of the Japanese Arata Isozaki (Oita, 1931) is, alone, an anthology of the architecture of the second part of the 20th century. Between the audacious brutalism of the library he built in his native city in 1966 and the postmodernity of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, MOCA, completed two decades later, fit the ingenious technological pop of the Kitakyushu Library (1974) or the updating of the modernity that the Gunma Art Museum represented, a tiled cube raised on piles in 1974.
But Isozaki represents much more than an anthology of manual. He was a pioneer in establishing contacts and exchanges with his Western colleagues. Surely that's why he preceded his own teacher – the pritzker of 1987, Kenzo Tange- when building abroad. "By the time I turned 30, I had circled the world 10 times," he said after learning that he had been awarded the Pritzker 2019. He attributes that thirst for movement to the Japan in which he grew up: ravaged by the bombings of World War II. In his country there was everything to do and, therefore, he learned to know his cities in a state of permanent change. Isozaki was 12 years old when the atomic bombs reduced Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ruins. It was from that reality, he stressed, from which he decided the constructive nature of the profession, which led him first to try to understand the world-to incorporate the best of each place to his work-and then to try to establish connections between architectures .
So, once out of Japan, Isozaki, He also recruited foreigners to build projects in his country in which he acted as an urban planner. Perhaps the most notorious operation of that type were the Nexus dwellings of Fukuoka, in the western end of Japan, whose general plan concentrated, in 1989, works by the then young Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Christian de Portzamparc, Mark Mack and Oscar Tusquets
Beyond his thirst for knowledge of world architecture, and beyond his artistic culture -his wife, who died in 2014, was the sculptor Aiko Miyawaki, who collaborated with him on some projects-, Isozaki trained as an engineer. Hence, the desire to understand how things work is present in his research as an architect. One of his best known projects in Spain, the Palau Sant Jordi, which he built for Olympic Barcelona, dazzled when, in a few hours, the prefabricated roof crowned the pavilion erected by cranes. To think more from the way of constructing that from the expected final form of the building is a characteristic of the best works of this architect.
In 2001, when Herzog & de Meuron received the Pritzker Prize they were 50 years old. Jacques Herzog told EL PAÍS that they could start taking risks. Arata Isozaki he receives the Pritzker 2019 at the end of his career – he is 87 years old – and, unlike other designers who received him in the middle of his career, as Christian de Portzamparc or Kazuyo Sejima, as an architect he has already accumulated all his achievements. Also your mistakes. In recent years, the work of the Japanese has not stopped facing new challenges. However, solutions seem to drink now from their own repertoire. Thus, the organic concrete grotto with which he covered the curtain wall of the Zendai Himalayas Center that he built in Shanghai in 2012 is the first cousin of the one he used to close the gigantic Qatar Convention Center built on the same dates, but in an environment completely different. Something similar happens with the Academy of Fine Arts of Beijing, CAFA, built in 2012, 17 years after the Domus Museum in A Coruña culminated with formal solutions and very similar materials.
The Pritzker Prize is a difficult prize to understand because it sometimes serves to indicate growth paths for architecture and others to recognize trajectories. That is, on occasion, it acts as a beacon that illuminates the future and, in others, a broom car. The winners in the last two years – Doshi and Isozaki – deserved recognition. The same thing happened also with some architects "rescued" like Jorn Utzon (2003) or Frei Otto, who died in 2015 days before his prize was announced. However, in other times, awarded as Wang Shu (2012), Shigeru Ban (2014) or Alejandro Aravena (2016) assumed a position when it came to indicating where the world architecture should, or could, evolve, towards the attention to problems usually neglected by the most well-known architects: the rescue of history (Wang Shu), emergency architecture (Ban) and paper of the user in the design of the buildings (Aravena) or what is the same, the improvement of self-construction.
While it is true that among the novels, dramas or poems of any Nobel Prize in Literature there are better and worse works, by recognizing the merits in a late manner, as in the case of this Pritzker to Isozaki, it is both fair and risky: you run the risk of also rewarding decadence. In a world in need of bold guides and designers capable of expanding and renewing the repertoire of architectural occupations, the prizes that indicate roads are appreciated. Aiming growth paths implies a greater risk than recognizing past merits. On the planet there are more and more awards that reward the work of architects. It is necessary that one of them concentrate on expanding the ambition of this profession.