2006 - Toyo Ito 1941 -

Tower of Winds, Tokyo

Designer: Ito, Toyo (1941-)
Copyright: Keith Collie/RIBA Library Photographs Collection (1994)

Toyo Ito was born to Japanese parents in Seoul, Korea, in 1941. Having graduated from Tokyo University he worked for Kiyonori Kikutake, one of the metabolists, before starting his own office called URBOT – meaning urban robot.


His work has made so many breakthroughs and covers an extraordinary range of investigations: into urbanism, organisational theory, experimental structure, robotics, layered skins, electrics, electronics, surfaces, materiality and the study of process. Not least, he has the talent and 'eye' to digest and interpret all of this with considerable elegance.


After the usual early experiments with houses, much influenced by Arata Isozaki and by Kazuo Shinhara, in the mid 1980s he built structures that were forays into the architecture of the ephemeral and reached a new and highly original level. The ‘Tower of the Winds’ at Yokohama is, by day, a simple oval shaft of perforated aluminium, beautifully lit by night and responding to the wind at all times.


Won the Royal Gold Medal 'for being an inspiration for generations of architects worldwide since his work started to receive international acclaim in the 1970s'.
Only three years later, Londoners were able to experience Ito's brilliance in the flesh: at the V&A Museum where he transformed a large gallery space into a white dream of the phenomenology of Tokyo.


From then on, the scale of his commissions grew exponentially, with such key works as the Yatsuhiro Museum, the Shimosuwa Museum, the tantalising Sendai Médiathèque: truly a piece of ‘floating’ architecture and the ‘bandaged’ Tod’s building in Tokyo.


Peter Cook, one of the jury, concluded his citation with the following words: ‘We never know what he will discover or devise next or how far he may push out the boundaries of architecture - in this way his activities seem to replicate those of the great Renaissance inventor-architects. He is a delightful companion: a genuinely nice man who encourages younger colleagues, inspires older colleagues and is not afraid to develop from his own constant display of youthful enthusiasm’.