A Personal Reflection: Arata Isozaki (1931-2022)

A Personal Reflection

Arata Isozaki died today, December 29, 2022 at 91 years old. Born July 23, 1931, architect/urban designer/theorist/graduate of University of Tokyo 1954, winner of the Pritzker Prize 2019.

He was always thoughtful and curious about the meanings of architecture. Much more than a practicing architect, he was a cultural empresario who organized major cultural works bringing international architects together. Isozaki organized the Fukuoka experimental housing constructions that brought together several international architects including myself, Rem Koolhaas, Christian de Portzamparc, and Mark Mack. He also organized the large Nanjing cultural park that realized works by himself, Ettore Sottsass, David Adjaye, Mansilla Tunon, SANAA, and Odile Decq, and for which he chose SHA to build the entrance building: the Nanjing Sifang Museum. He received the Pritzker Prize very late in life, in 2019 at 89 and remarked “like a flower on my tombstone.”

Extremely knowledgeable regarding all the arts, he was like a scholar with a sense of humor and a taste for high fashion. On one of my first encounters, I met him in Tokyo in 1986 while on my lecture tour sponsored by Toshio Nakamura of A+U Magazine. He invited us to a dinner in which everything was from the turtle, starting with turtle soup. The last course was turtle blood mixed with sake. An unforgettable grin on his face when he said, “drink it in one gulp.”

Dimitra Tsachrelia and I shared a friendly dinner with him in 2019 in Tokyo, where his sense of humor prevailed as he explained his mysterious move from Tokyo to Okinawa. Isozaki retained his amazing charisma, sense of mystery and humor when I last saw him as a juror for the Shenzhen Center competition in 2019. When I, smiling, congratulated him on winning the Pritzker, he grinned, “life is short.”

– Steven Holl