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Arata Isozaki


An architect, urban planner and architectural theorist, Arata Isozaki (1931) is regarded as one of the masters of contemporary Japanese architecture.
Born in Ōita, on the island of Kyushu in Japan, Isozaki was a teenager at the time Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed.

The memory of that experience helped him to develop his theory that buildings are transitory and maintain a bond with man. In this respect, he stated: “when I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down. Across the shore, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up near ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities”.

In 1954, Isozaki graduated in architecture from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. He then began his career as an apprentice to Kenzo Tange (Pritzker Prize 1987).
In 1963, when he founded his own studio, Japan was experiencing a period of reconstruction and economic boom, but it was also struggling with the uncertain outcome of World War II on a political, social and cultural level.
He began working locally, designing many buildings in his hometown and in Fukuoka, and he then quickly expanded to Gunma, Osaka and Tokyo. “Significant works in his early career include the Ōita Prefectural Library (1962-1966 Ōita, Japan), Expo ’70 Festival Plaza (1966-1970 Osaka, Japan), The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma (1971-1974 Gunma, Japan), and Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka (1972-1974 Fukuoka, Japan)” (Pritzker biography).

In the 1960s, Isozaki also designed City in the Air (1962 Tokyo, Japan), a futuristic plan for Shinjuku, which never saw the light of day, “consisting of elevated layers of buildings, residences and transportation suspended above the aging city below, in response to the rapid rate of urbanization”.
During his personal years, Isozaki elaborated theories on architectural form that translated into sophisticated geometric works, some of which consisted of monolithic volumes, others of complex combinations of primary volumes, but always with a monumental outcome.
He expresses his poetics through cladding, in which the reiteration of a module creates a continuous sculptural wrapper.

In the 1980s, Isozaki joined the postmodern current and approached the Memphis group, an avant-garde movement led by Ettore Sottsass in Italy.
The group’s rediscovery of archetypal lines and shapes, use of color and graphic lines influenced not only Isozaki’s furniture designs but also his experimentation with composition, as can be seen at the MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1983-86).
Some of his works include the Kamioka Town Hall (1976-78), the Tsukuba Civic Centre (1979-83), and the Art Tower Mito in Mito (1986-90).
For the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he designed the Palau Sant Jordi indoor sporting arena (1990), a building that “marks the beginning of a new season in his architectural style, characterized by a controlled mannerism, full of metaphors, which is influenced by different elements originating from both Japanese tradition and avant-garde currents” (Treccani).

From the 1990s to the present day, Isozaki has produced famous works such as the Nagi Museum Of Contemporary Art (1994), the House of Man in La Coruña (1995) and the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków (1994); the Okayama-shi police station (1996); the Shenzhen Cultural Center (1997-2003); the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Art Museum in Beijing (2003-2008); the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha (2004-2011); the Shanghai Symphony Hall in Shanghai (2008-2014); and the Hunan Provincial Museum (2011-2017).

As for his projects in Italy, Andrea Maffei has been his Italian partner since 2004. Together, they designed the new exit of the Uffizi Museum in Florence and the Stadio Olimpico in Turin (2003-05), the New Library in Maranello (2011), the T.A.V. station in Bologna, and the Allianz Tower in Milan (2003-2014).
Isozaki has held conferences and lectures at prestigious venues, especially in the USA.

His works have won awards all over the world, and have been on display at exhibitions and featured in countless publications. The most notable exhibitions dedicated to his work are Arata Isozaki: Architecture 1960-1990 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and Works in Architecture at the Brooklyn Museum (New York, 1993). An honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, member of the Bund Deutscher Architekten and Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, in 2019 Isozaki received the prestigious Pritzker Prize.
Arata Isozaki selected works and projects
- Rinnovamento Hunan Museum, Hunan (Cina), 2017
- Lucerne Festival Ark Nova (con A. Kapoor), sedi varie, 2011-2017
- Torre Allianz (con A. Maffei), Milano (Italia), 2015
- Shanghai Symphony Hall, Shanghai (Cina), 2014
- Qatar National Convention Center, Doha (Qatar) 2011
- MABIC - Nuova Biblioteca di Maranello (Italia) (con A. Maffei), 2011
- Uffici della Provincia di Bergamo (Italia), 2009
- China Wetland Museum, Hangzhou (Cina), 2009
- Complesso residenziale e commerciale Isozaki Atea, Bilbao (Spagna), 2008
- Central Academy of Fine Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art, Pechino (Cina), 2008
- Palasport per i Giochi Olimpici Invernali (con A. Maffei), Torino (Italia), 2005
- Hotel Puerta America, Madrid (Spagna), 2005
- Shenzhen Cultural Centre, Shenzhen (Cina), 2003
- Ceramic Park Mino, Gifu (Giappone) 2002
- Stazione marittima e palazzetto dello sport, Salerno (Italia), 2000
- Nuova uscita del Museo degli Uffizi (con A. Maffei), Firenze (Italia), 1999-in corso
- Centro della Scienza e dell’Industria, Columbus (USA), 1999
- Centennial Hall, Nara (Giappone), 1998
- Shizuoka performing arts park, Shizuoka (Giappone), 1997
- Padiglione giapponese alla Biennale di Architettura di Venezia (Italia), 1996
- Okayama West Police Station, Okayama (Giappone), 1996
- Casa del Hombre, La Coruña (Spagna), 1995
- Museo d'arte contemporanea, Nagi (Giappone), 1994
- Padiglione d’arte e tecnologia giapponese, Cracovia (Polonia), 1994
- Team Disney Building, Buena Vista (USA), 1991
- Palazzo dello sport Sant Jordi per i Giochi Olimpici, Barcellona (Spagna), 1990
- Art Tower Mito, Ibaraki (Giappone), 1990
- Museo d’arte contemporanea MOCA, Los Angeles (USA), 1986
- Centro civico di Tsukuba, Ibaraki (Giappone), 1983
- Museo d’arte moderna, Gumna (Giappone), 1974
- Kitakyushu Central Library, Fukuoka (Giappone), 1974
- The Kitakyushu City Museum of Art, Fukuoka (Giappone), 1974
- Filiale bancaria della Banca di Fukuoka, Oita (Giappone), 1971
- Oita prefectural library, Oita (Giappone), 1966
Official website


Maranello Library is the first project by Arata Isozaki & Andrea Maffei Associati to be built. Can you tell us how you and the great Japanese master work together?

Andrea Maffei: Isozaki and I have been friends who work together for more than ten years, and so we have a very close relationship. When we start work on a new project we’re in Tokyo, or somewhere else in the world, and we discuss the theme, the design concept. We start with the building’s functions and their dimensions. We never start with form, but always with the client’s requirements and the type of design that would work in the best possible way in this context. We’re not interested in creating form for its own sake and then filling it with functions; on the contrary, we start with the functions and the history of this type of building over the years in our attempt to determine the significance it might have today. The result is a number of concepts which are then assessed on the basis of studio models and computer simulations, and we choose the best solution. Then our studio in Milan develops the details of the project and we discuss the choices made and the finishing touches on the project with the client.
The dialogue between architects directs different ideas and experiments in a single direction.

The whiteness of the structures, furnishings and floors, the green walls of ivy surrounding the building and the transparencies created through the water seem to be the key ingredients in this project. What scenario is the project attempting to create?

Andrea Maffei:
The concept centred on an old industrial building, with a shed roof, surrounded by private homes on three sides, and the relationship with the building’s context was delicate. We thought the best thing would be to preserve the existing walls around the perimeter on the side where the homes are, transforming them into green walls covered with vines and opening up the building’s wrapper on the side facing the municipal offices. The new building has an organic form which is lower than the walls so that it cannot be seen by the neighbours through their windows, and there is no invasion of privacy. We wanted to create a parallel world that could not be seen from the outside, but that would be discovered a little at a time, and that has a life of its own, surrounded by greenery and water. It’s like discovering a wonderful secret garden in the inner courtyard of an old building.

How is space distributed in the open space? What strategies do you use to represent the different functions?

Andrea Maffei:
The open space is the best kind of arrangement for a reading room where readers can help themselves to the books. It permits distribution of the tables in the best possible way, and makes room for more of them, as there are no internal walls, just one big open space. This layout is the most common type in the big libraries such as the British Library in London. In our case, the open space of the reading room occupies the entire ground floor. Seeing as we had decided to transform the router walls of the old building into green walls, we built the entire perimeter of the library out of glass so that readers could enjoy the view of the greenery as they read or study. And we surrounded the library with a pool of shallow water to add another natural element to the poetry of the space. The glass is curved all along the perimeter to echo the movement of the water and the green leaves. This solution makes what could have been an ordinary box into a natural environment that will fascinate citizens and invite them to use it more frequently to enjoy this inner garden. We created another open space on the underground floor for exhibitions and presentations, a big rectangular space with no partitions, with track lighting that may be oriented in any direction. This flexibility makes the space suitable for hosting exhibitions, meetings and presentations. The ceiling is sound-absorbing to improve acoustic performance.

The City of Maranello has said it believes in the need to promote innovative projects for the city aimed at qualifying urban space through attractive architecture. Is the library part of this programme?

Andrea Maffei:
Of course: the library is one of the projects the City wanted to work on to improve the quality of the city and its services with innovative buildings. Ferrari had its workshops in Maranello designed by archistars to improve the quality of the factory, but they’re not open to the public. And so the city wanted to extend this concept to public buildings open to all, to improve the town’s quality of life and renew its architecture. Our project and Piero Lissoni’s welcome tower are stimuli that renew their context and make it into an attraction for the community.

Work will soon begin on the Endless Tower, the CityLife skyscraper with which Arata Isozaki & Andrea Maffei Associati are contributing to the redevelopment of Milan’s historic trade fair district. What formal and technological innovations characterise this building?

Andrea Maffei:
The concept behind the Citylife skyscraper was reinterpreting the very idea of the skyscraper. These buildings are normally designed with a central core for services (elevators, ventilation spaces and fire stairs) with the offices arranged around them. In our project, we wanted to experiment with a different form of distribution: the core was divided in two parts positioned at either end of the rectangular surface. This created a big rectangular open space in the middle of the building, with panoramic elevators at both ends. This layout makes the offices more efficient, as a single big space in which the occupants can easily and freely organise their offices. Freedom and flexibility of use seem to be the most interesting aspect of the building, in our opinion. This basic functional distribution was then developed vertically on the basis of a concept of modularity which may be repeated infinitely. We did not want to create a skyscraper that ends with a head closing it off, but to characterise it with a series of clear, differentiated compositional modules that are constantly overlapped vertically, in theory infinitely, like a sort of endless tower. We created modules of 6 floors characterised by a slightly curved façade that distinguishes among them, not only for formal reasons but to represent our concept and make it visible. This is the language the architect uses to represent the concept he wishes to express. The floors in the building are interrupted by two technical levels, one halfway up the building and one at the top, clearly identified by a different façade, picking up on the theme of the entrance lobby. The architectural idiom represents the building’s composition and allows us to understand its functional and technical composition. This is why there are four steel struts on the outside reinforcing the building at its base, so that the core walls can be made thinner for one third of the building’s height. This made it possible to reduce the building’s overall width, saving on façade materials and improving efficiency. Leaving these mechanical aspects bare, such as the struts and panoramic elevators, is an idea inspired by the Futurist movement of the '30s in Milan: the building as machine, in which people’s vertical movements are visible and the gears in the structural mechanism are revealed. In this sense it is a homage to the city of Milan and its futurist artists.

The project is very ambitious, especially if we consider the scenario it fits into, in Italy. Can you tell us how you are planning to manage the various phases in construction? What sort of time span are you looking at?

Andrea Maffei:
Construction will begin in June with foundations and continue with the underground parking lot starting in September. We will starting building the above-ground structures in 2012 and work will be completed in January 2015, before the ’EXPO’ scheduled for the summer of the same year. Citylife construction is proceeding actively and on schedule. The client clearly intends to complete the work by the scheduled deadline. The visitors who come to ’EXPO’ will find a new Milan, and these new skyscrapers make a big contribution to the new look of the Lombard city.

Interview by Flores Zanchi

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