Arata Isozaki (1931–2022)

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, who designed the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, died December 30 at home in Okinawa. He was ninety-one. Isozaki was renowned for his structures melding Eastern and Western concepts and for his commitment to a forward-moving and unconventional practice in which he never repeated a design. During the course of a career that spanned six decades,he designed more than one hundred buildings that in their shapes and materials responded to their environments and reflected his extraordinary sensitivity to the natural and man-made world. Long considered a giant among his peers—Tadao Ando once hailed him as the “emperor of Japanese architecture”—he was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2019 at the age of eighty-seven. “My concept of architecture is that it is invisible,” he said on winning the prestigious award. “It’s intangible. But I believe it can be felt through the five senses.”

Arata Isozaki was born in 1931 in the Japanese island city of Oita. From this vantage point, at the age of fourteen, he witnessed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The experience profoundly affected him and informed his entire career, which was marked by a consideration of rebuilding. After earning his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in architecture and engineering from the University of Tokyo, having studied under noted Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, he went to work for Kiyunori Kikutake, eventually opening his own firm in 1971. For about twenty years beginning in 1960, he designed structures mainly for his home island of Kyushu, among them the Oita Medical Hall and the Kitakyushu Central Library. While his earliest structures evinced his European influences, particularly New Brutalism and Metabolism, his later work showed his concern first with Modernism and then with natural organisms.

In 1980, having designed museums including the Museum of Modern Art Gunma—considered by many to embody his best work—and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Fukuoka, he was commissioned to design LA MoCA. He soon found himself at odds with the members of the committee that had hired him, who attempted to force him to hew to their own design ideas. Risking dismissal from the project, Isozaki publicly resisted and, with the support of Frank Gehry and some museum trustees, was able to push through his own iconoclastic design, which features underground galleries illuminated by a pyramidal skylight.

The widely lauded design brought Isozaki to international attention. His 1985 interior design of the storied Palladium club in New York further cemented his reputation, with Artforum’s Herbert Muschamp writing, “The Palladium’s crumbling Manhattan facade doesn’t prepare you for the possibilities Isozaki has wrested from what could have turned out just another weekend art pass stamped with the necessary visa.” Over the next forty years, Isozaki designed numerous public facilities including Barcelon’as Palau Saint Jordiwhose entrance, with its undulating roof, welcomed visitors to the 1992 Summer Olympics; the Domus Museum, above a rocky promontory in A Coruña, Spain; and Japan’s Nara Centennial Hall, its curved structure and tile cladding reflecting the architecture of Nara’s ancient Todaiji Temple. In 2013, with Anish Kapoor, he conceived the Ark Nova, an inflatable five-hundred-seat concert hall that toured earthquake- and tsunami-hit regions of Japan.

“When architects design their buildings they often focus on the form, exterior, and overall image,” he told Arch Daily in 2021. “But when I design my buildings I start from within. I am always inside the architecture that I design.”


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