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Riken Yamamoto Receives the 2024 Pritzker Architecture Prize

The prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize has proudly named Riken Yamamoto from Yokohama, Japan, the recipient of the 2024 Laureate title. Widely acclaimed as the most esteemed accolade in the realm of architecture on a global scale, this recognition solidifies Yamamoto's outstanding contributions to the field.

Riken Yamamoto, photo courtesy of Tom Welsh
Riken Yamamoto, photo courtesy of Tom Welsh

Yamamoto, an architect and social advocate, fosters connections between public and private domains, championing the creation of harmonious societies amidst diverse identities, economies, politics, infrastructures, and housing systems. Rooted in a commitment to community well-being, he challenges the prevailing notion that privacy is the paramount urban ideal, advocating instead for mutual support and cooperation among neighbors. His conception of community extends beyond physical space, emphasizing a shared sense of belonging and responsibility.

Rejecting the commodification of housing and its detachment from communal bonds, Yamamoto endeavors to unite cultures, histories, and generations through thoughtful design interventions. Drawing inspiration from international influences and modernist principles, he envisions architecture as a catalyst for societal progress, enabling vibrant and inclusive communities to flourish.

"For me, understanding space means understanding the entire community," Yamamoto articulates. "The current architectural approach emphasizes privacy, negating the necessity of societal relationships. However, we can still honor the freedom of each individual while living together in architectural space as a republic, fostering harmony across cultures and phases of life.”

Yokosuka Museum of Art, photo courtesy of Tomio Ohashi
Yokosuka Museum of Art, photo courtesy of Tomio Ohashi

According to the 2024 Jury Citation, Yamamoto was chosen “for creating awareness in the community in what is the responsibility of the social demand, for questioning the discipline of architecture to calibrate each individual architectural response, and above all for reminding us that in architecture, as in democracy, spaces must be created by the resolve of the people...”

Yamamoto redefines boundaries as dynamic spaces, activating the juncture between public and private realms to imbue each project with social significance. His designs prioritize opportunities for interaction and serendipitous encounters, whether in small-scale or large-scale endeavors, showcasing an expertly crafted interplay between architecture and its occupants. Through strategic use of transparency, his structures invite internal inhabitants to engage with their surroundings while extending a sense of belonging to passersby.

His approach emphasizes a seamless integration with the natural and built environment, ensuring a harmonious coexistence between architecture and its context. By maintaining a consistent dialogue with the existing landscape, Yamamoto's designs enrich the human experience, contextualizing each building within its unique setting.

Yamakawa Villa, photo courtesy of Tomio Ohashi
Yamakawa Villa, photo courtesy of Tomio Ohashi

Yamamoto draws inspiration from traditional Japanese machiya and Greek oikos housing, which historically thrived in urban settings where connectivity and commerce were vital to family life. In his own residence, GAZEBO (Yokohama, Japan, 1986), he fosters neighborly interaction through strategically designed terraces and rooftops. Similarly, the Ishii House (Kawasaki, Japan, 1978), crafted for two artists, features a pavilion-like room that seamlessly extends into the outdoors, serving as a stage for performances while providing cozy living quarters below.

Tom Pritzker, Chair of the Hyatt Foundation sponsoring the award, notes, “Yamamoto develops a new architectural language that doesn’t merely create spaces for families to live, but creates communities for families to live together, his works are always connected to society, cultivating a generosity in spirit and honoring the human moment.”

Even in larger housing projects, Yamamoto imbues relational dynamics, ensuring that residents, including those living alone, are not isolated. For instance, the Pangyo Housing complex (Seongnam, Republic of Korea, 2010), comprised of nine low-rise blocks, features transparent ground-floor volumes that promote neighborly bonds. A communal deck on the second floor serves as a hub for social interaction, offering spaces for gatherings, playgrounds, gardens, and connecting bridges between housing blocks.

Alejandro Aravena, Jury Chair and the 2016 Pritzker Prize Laureate, underscores the significance of Yamamoto's approach: “One of the things we need most in the future of cities is to create conditions through architecture that multiply the opportunities for people to come together and interact. By carefully blurring the boundary between public and private, Yamamoto contributes positively beyond the brief to enable community,”

Yamamoto's approach to civic buildings is grounded in the affirmation of their specific functions, reinforcing their public purpose and ensuring community assurance. The Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station (Hiroshima, Japan, 2000) stands as a beacon of transparency, its glass louvered façade and interior glass walls allowing for unobstructed views into the central atrium where firefighters undergo daily activities and training. This design invites both visitors and passersby to witness the essential work of civil servants, fostering a sense of familiarity and trust within the community.

Similarly, the Fussa City Hall (Tokyo, Japan, 2008) is conceived as two mid-rise towers, harmonizing with the surrounding low-rise neighborhood. The concave bases of the towers provide inviting spaces for relaxation, while green public rooftops and lower levels are adaptable for various community events and activities, reinforcing the building's role as a communal hub.

At Saitama Prefectural University (Koshigaya, Japan, 1999), dedicated to nursing and health sciences, Yamamoto's design fosters interdisciplinary learning through interconnected terraces and transparent volumes that encourage visual connectivity between classrooms and buildings. This promotes collaboration and exchange among students and faculty members, enriching the educational experience.

Even in spaces designed for the youngest learners, such as Koyasu Elementary School (Yokohama, Japan, 2018), Yamamoto prioritizes community and interaction. Generous, open terraces extend the learning spaces, providing opportunities for students to interact across grade levels and fostering relationships that transcend traditional classroom boundaries.

Yamamoto's consideration of the user experience is evident in his design of the Yokosuka Museum of Art (Yokosuka, Japan, 2006), which serves as both a cultural destination and a daily retreat for locals. The museum's serpentine entrance, inspired by the surrounding natural landscape, leads visitors into underground galleries that offer uninterrupted views of the exterior scenery. Round cutouts in common areas allow for glimpses into other galleries and the surrounding landscape, creating a sense of unity among visitors and enhancing their overall museum experience.

Ecoms House, photo courtesy of Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop
Ecoms House, photo courtesy of Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop

Over a career spanning five decades, Riken Yamamoto has left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape, with projects ranging from private residences to public housing, elementary schools to university buildings, institutions to civic spaces, and city planning initiatives. His influence extends across Japan, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland, where his significant built works stand as testaments to his visionary approach.

Among his notable projects are Nagoya Zokei University (Nagoya, Japan, 2022), THE CIRCLE at Zürich Airport (Zürich, Switzerland, 2020), Tianjin Library (Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, 2012), Jian Wai SOHO (Beijing, People’s Republic of China, 2004), Ecoms House (Tosu, Japan, 2004), Shinonome Canal Court CODAN (Tokyo, Japan, 2003), Future University Hakodate (Hakodate, Japan, 2000), Iwadeyama Junior High School (Ōsaki, Japan, 1996), and Hotakubo Housing (Kumamoto, Japan, 1991).

As the 53rd Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the ninth from Japan, Yamamoto's contributions to the field are internationally recognized. Born in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, and residing in Yokohama, Japan, he will be honored in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, this spring. The 2024 Laureate Lecture, scheduled for May 16th, will take place at S. R. Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology, in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Center, and will be open to the public both in-person and online.


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