Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito (* 1 June 1941 in Keijo (now Seoul), Korea) is a Japanese architect.

Toyo Ito in 2009
Toyo Ito in 2009


Early Life, Studies and Career

Toyo Ito was born in Japan-annexed Seoul, Korea to Japanese parents in 1941.

Ito graduated in architecture from University of Tokyo in 1965. He first worked for the architectural firm "Kiyonori Kikutake Architect and Associate" from 1965 to 1969.


Toyo Ito and founded his own firm under the name URBOT (short for Urban Robot) in Tokyo in 1971.

At that time, young architects only had access to individual houses to reflect on the fundamental problems of architecture. He had to wait until 1978 to design his first building, the PMT Building in Nagoya. The same company entrusted him with other projects in Japan: in Fukuoka in 1979, then in Ōsaka.

The name of URBOT was changed to "Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects" in 1979.

Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects

At the beginning of his career, Toyo Ito designed numerous private houses. However, Ito soon made a name for himself as a conceptual architect who merges the physical and virtual worlds. With his works, he addresses questions of the contemporary notion of a "simulated" place. With the 1985 project Pao for the Tokyo Nomad Girl, Ito created a vision of the modern urban nomad, plugged into the Japanese bubble economy. Tower of Winds in Yokohama from 1986 and Egg of winds from 1991 are interactive landmarks in public space that are intended to provide a creative examination of the technical possibilities of the future.

The Yatsushiro Municipal Museum completed in 1991 was the first public commission for Toyo Ito and Associates, Architects.

In December 1997, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) launched a competition for a renovation and expansion of the museum with an additional 18,600 m2. Among 10 shortlisted projects, Toyo Ito's project was chosen, but the museum management finally chose that of the other Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi.


Toyo Ito has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Tokyo and the Women's University of Tokyo, among others. He also holds an honorary professorship at the University of North London and has taught courses at Columbia University as a visiting professor. He teaches at the Tama College of Art as a visiting professor.

Toyo Ito promotes young, talented architects in Japan, for example Kazuyo Sejima.

Architectural Style

An architect of the essential, he has always opposed monumental architecture, preferring the creation of more malleable spaces5.


Toyo Ito's work can be divided into three successive and sometimes overlapping periods.

Neutrality "Garden of Light"

Toyo Ito carried out his first projects by giving a simplicity and neutrality of form to his buildings, whereas other architects sought complexity instead. The first period concerns domestic architecture in which Toyo Ito develops the metaphor of the "Garden of Light", illustrated by the White U. The term Garden is used by Ito to show that his projects are teeming, changing, even if a theme is discernible as it would be for example in an "Exotic Garden "6. This house is turned in on itself, with no windows to the street, just a courtyard. The house is disconnected from the rest of the city by a totally abstract representation, as it is painted white. These white walls are seen by Toyo Ito as screens that show the play of light - arriving through the zenithal openings - and the shadows of people. The courtyard represents a natural desert, without any vegetation.

Decomposition "Garden of the Winds"

The second period, entitled "Garden of the Winds", is marked by Silver Hut and the ephemeral nature of its achievements. De-composition does not mean deconstructing but rather fragmenting and separating the different elements of the composition. During this period Toyo Ito seeks to achieve a simple abstraction of form and a dematerialisation. The Silver Hut project - a house that Toyo Ito built for his own use - consists of a series of vaults placed side by side, each with zenithal openings. The overall volume consists of a dissociation of the different volumes of the composition whose form is deconstructed to allow light to pass through; the steel structure becomes apparent, giving the building a fragile appearance.

Multi-Stratification "Garden of Electronic Chips"

The third period is named by Toyo ito himself, the "Garden of Electronic Chips" in which he develops all the possibilities offered by electronics as with the Yokohama Wind Tower which happens to be his first public building project. Built in 19867 , it serves as a ventilation tower and water tank for a shopping mall located in the basement. Toyo Ito's intervention is limited to the exterior cladding. The light structure is made of aluminium. During the day, the tower appears completely white, homogeneous in metallic materials, while at night the electrical elements positioned on the façade transform the tower into a luminous signal formed by bands, which change continuously under the influence of the winds, thanks to permanent calculations made by computer. Toyo Ito modifies the monolithic block of the de-composition period with the Silver Hut project, which becomes vertical, dynamic and electronic in the Tower of Winds project.

Contemporary Period

Finally, Ito's current architecture achieves a global synthesis of these influences, symbolised by the Sendai Mediatheque. He gives a sense of lightness and progress but also of fragility and evolution to the buildings he designs. The Sendai Media Library is the result of an association with Makoto Yokomizo, who created his own agency in 2000. The building includes a media centre, library, art gallery and citizen information centre. Ito wanted to build a media library that was in tune with the times and adapted to new technologies. The building is composed of three strong elements: the floors (2,500 m2), the 13 columns and the skin. Its columns, arranged in a random manner, contain the different circulations: such as light, air, water, but also the computer circuits and finally the vertical circulations (lift, stairs), which evokes fluidity and dynamic movement. The neutrality of the façade is given by a single glass volume. Using the metaphor of the aquarium, Toyo Ito imagines that his columns form waves.

The skins of the North, East and West facades are made of glass sheets while the South facade has a double glass skin. The glass panels are each 2.5 m high and are attached to the supporting structure. This skin reflects the trees during the day, while at night the artificial lighting reveals the structure of the building. Each floor was designed by a different architect, with distinct colours, shapes and materials, but all of which remain transparent and fluid and link perfectly with the columns formed by interlaced lines. Toyo Ito has become a master for a younger generation of Japanese architects, such as Kazuyo Sejima, who was part of Toyo Ito and Associates from 1981 to 1987. In her office SANAA, she develops a very pure, ascetic architecture, with great attention to detail, which is a Japanese reinterpretation of modernity.

Critical Visions

Toyo Ito's works are influenced by the Japanese philosopher Munesuke Mita and Gilles Deleuze's concept of the nomad.

Through his projects with small houses, Ito has defined architecture as: "dress" for individuals in urban life, especially in the life of Japanese metropolises.

The latest works draw on works of postmodernism. They energetically explore the new potential of formal language.


1976 White U Hoouse Residential Tokyo Japan House that Toyo Ito designed for his sister.
1984 Silver Hut Residential Tokyo Japan Toyo Ito's own house, adjacent to White U.
1986 Tower of Winds - Yokohama Japan
1991 Yatsushiro Municipal Museum Museum Yatsushiro-shiritsu hakubutsukan Japan
1994 Day-care centre 117 "KiTa Eckenheimer Erdhügel" - Frankfurt-Eckenheim Germany
1997 Odate Dome Stadium Odate, Akita Japan
2001 Sendai Mediatheque (Sendai Mediateku) Library Sendai, Miyagi Japan
2002 Serpentine Pavilion Pavilion London United Kingdom
2002 Brugge Pavilion Pavilion Brugge Belgium
2004 TOD's Omotesando Building (TOD's Omotesando biru) - Tokyo Japan
2005 Mikimoto Building, Ginza2 - Tokyo Japan
2006 Vivo City - Singapore Singapore
2006 Library of the Tama College of Art Library Hachioji in Tokyo Prefecture Japan
2006-2009 National Stadium Stadium Kaohsiung Japan
2009 Hotel Porta Fira Hotel Barcelona Spain
1994 Old People's Home - Yatsushiro Japan
2007 Library of Tama Art University Library Tokyo Japan
2008 World Games Stadium Stadium Kaohsiung Taiwan
2008 Huge Wine Glass - Pescara Italy Broken after 64 days from unveiling.
2009 Suites Avenue Building - Barcelona Spain
2009 Torre Realia BCN and Hotel Porta Fira, L'Hospitalet de Llobregat Hotel Barcelona Spain
2009 Za-Koenji Public Theater Theater Koenji, Suginami, Tokyo Japan
2009 White O - Marbella Chile
2011 Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture Museum Imabari, Ehime Japan
2011 Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum Museum Imabari, Ehime Japan
2014 Koo Chen-Fu Memorial Library, College of Social Sciences, National Taiwan University Library Taipei City Taiwan
2014 National Taichung Theater Theater Taichung City Taiwan
2015 Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall Kakamigahara-shi - Gifu Japan
2016 International Museum of the Baroque Museum Puebla Mexico

Current projects

In Taiwan, further buildings by Ito are currently under construction: the Metropolitan Opera House in Taichung, which is shaped like an organic cell, is scheduled for completion at the end of 2013, and the New College of Social Science at the National University of Taiwan in Taipei has been under construction since 2009.

Project Analysis

The Serpentine Pavilion, London, 2002

This pavilion was designed for the Serpentine Gallery in 2002. This London gallery aims to focus on modern and contemporary art. Each year the Serpentine Gallery commissions an architect to build a temporary structure on its grounds in the summer. These projects are chosen under the direction of Julia Peyton-Jones. In 2002, Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Sri Lankan engineer Cecil Balmond were chosen. Balmond was a key element in bringing the creative force to the pavilion. The Ito-Balmond Pavilion at the Serpentine has been called the best pavilion ever designed. The architecture critic Jonathan Glancey for the British newspaper The Guardian called it, "one of the most exquisite and revolutionary recent buildings ". The design is based on an algorithm devised by Balmond. "As funny as it sounds, the structure is full of complex geometry. The pavilion has no facade and no structural framework to give it rhythm. The structure is completely exposed. It is a holistic beauty that resembles a crystal or a snowflake. Cecil Balmond's approach is as follows:

  1. Draw a square.
  2. Draw a line from one half of one side of the square to one third of the adjacent side in a clockwise direction.
  3. s sides in a clockwise direction, and then clockwise for each side.
  4. Extend these four lines in both directions outside the original square until they meet to form a new turned square.
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 in the new square.

The Guardian said:

"The Ito-Balmond Pavilion for the Serpentine is a model of what a building can be.

The Evening Standard asked

"Why can't all new buildings be this good? This pavilion is a lesson in imagination.

Balmond won the Gengo Matsui Award for this pavilion. This is one of the most recognised engineering awards in Japan. Ito and Balmond have since collaborated on the Taichung Opera House in Taiwan.

TOD's Omotesando building, Tokyo, 2004

vThis project was entrusted to the Japanese architect Toyo Ito by the shoe company TOD's.

The work consisted firstly of the façade in order to integrate this building as well as possible into the dense fabric of the city of Tokyo. In the treatment of this façade, Ito will use the metaphor of the tree. This is the zelkova tree that lines the streets of Tokyo. The idea is to use it both as a structural element and as a modenature. He intended to use the tree as "an unstable symbol of the present time and to produce a new abstraction through a non-linear geometry, a dynamic geometry that generates both life and abstraction.

There is a work on density. Like a tree, the structure is denser at the bottom and gradually branches out as it rises. Toyo Ito affirms here the style of organic architecture and the evanescence of architecture. The building is L-shaped and has seven levels. The first two levels house the shop itself, while the other levels house the offices. The building has a surface area of 2,500 m2. It alternates a full-empty system of glass and concrete. The building has a completely open floor plan and expresses Ito's own notion of "surface". The model evokes the notion of origami: a folding of surfaces in three dimensions. The boundary between interior and exterior seems completely blurred. The building takes on its abstract dimension by breaking the reading of a normal façade, between walls and openings.

Mikimoto Ginza 2, Tokyo, 2005

This building was built in 2005 on a 250 m2 site and houses several shops on 9 floors. It is located in the heart of Tokyo. In order to differentiate himself from the neighbouring constructions with their rectilinear geometry, Toyo Ito chose to work on the façade of the building rather than its structure by rendering an abstraction through curved lines. The colour of the exterior walls, a very pale pink, recalls the colour of pearls as a tribute to the cultured pearl invented by Mikimoto. Moreover, it also corresponds to the jewellery shop inside the shop. The very thin skin is 12 mm thick and is made of steel plates, glass and reinforced concrete. The structure of the building behaves like a tube in which there are no posts, only the walls carry the levels. The steel panels were sandwiched by reinforcements and then filled with concrete. Thanks to this structure, the openings - irregular polygons with rounded corners - could be placed anywhere in the façade. The glass openings, the colours, the light that penetrates the façade deconstruct the smooth and cold monolith of the base.


In 1991, Ito used 130 video projectors to depict Tokyo's urban environment as Vision of Japan in an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Ito followed the same principle in 2000 in the exhibition Vision and reality at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. In the exhibition Blurring Architecture, which was shown in Aachen, Tokyo, Antwerp, Auckland and Wellington, Ito attempted to discover the "virtual" anchoring of architecture in the human mind. Another exhibition followed in 2001 at the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza, where Ito presented a retrospective of his own work and was also responsible for the exhibition design; he completely darkened the historic building of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and presented his projects as a multimedia installation of video projections, photos, drawings and models. Ito's work was also shown at the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza.

Ito also designed the 2006 Berlin-Tokyo/Tokyo-Berlin exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. This involved creating a graceful, rolling landscape that occupied the main exhibition space. This exhibition was created in collaboration with the Mori Art Museum.

In 2008, another exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, TOYO ITO - Generative Order, was dedicated to his entire oeuvre and especially to the three buildings that were built in Taiwan at that time.

In November 2011, the Toyo Ito Architecture Museum, designed by Toyo Ito himself and shaped like the deck of a ship, opened on Ōmishima Island (Imabari City, Seto Inland Sea, Japan).

Awards and honours

1986 Architecture Institute of Japan Award for Silver Hut
1992 33rd Mainrich Art Award for the Yatsushiro Municipal Museum
1997 IAA 'interach '97' Gold Medal of the Grand Prix of the Association of Architects in Bulgaria
1997 Honorary Membership of the Association of German Architects (BDA)
1998 Education Minister's Art Encouragement Prize in Japan
2000 Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize for Architecture of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
2001 Golden Prize of the Japanese Good Design Award
2005 Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Medal
2008 Frederick John Kiesler Award for Architecture and the Arts
2010 Praemium Imperiale
2010 Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize
2014 Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
2018 Person of Special Cultural Merit
2001 Grand Prize of the Good Design Award of the Japan Institute of Design Promotion (en) for the Sendai Mediatheque
2000 Awarded the title of Academician by the International Academy of Architecture.
2017 Gold Medal of the International Union of Architects Congress in Seoul
2010 22nd Praemium Imperiale Prize for Architecture.



  • Alessandra Orlandoni: Interview with Toyo Ito. In: The Plan. 016, 2006


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