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Riken Yamamoto Pritzker Price 2024 winner

By 7 March 2024April 12th, 2024No Comments

Succeeding David Chipperfield, the 2023 winner, Riken Yamamoto has been awarded the 2024 Pritzker Prize by a jury that salutes a social activist architect who, “through the strong and coherent quality of his buildings, aims to give dignity, improve and enrich the lives of individuals and their social ties“. His work reflects a social approach to architecture and urban planning, attentive to uses and links between individuals.

Pritzker Prize organisers have honoured an architect who “establishes links between public and private spaces, thereby inspiring harmonious societies despite diverse identities, economies, policies, infrastructures and housing access systems“. 

Riken Yamamoto © Tom Welsh

Born in Beijing, China, in 1945, Riken Yamamoto has developed a practice of flexible architecture with societal ambitions that honours the dignity of the daily lives of individuals and their social ties. As a child, he grew up with his family in a house modelled on the traditional Japanese model, the Machiya, consisting of his mother’s pharmacy at the front and the family dwelling at the back. “The threshold on one side was that of the family, and on the other, that of the community,” he says.

After graduating from the School of Architecture at Nihon University in Japan and obtaining a master’s degree from Tokyo University of the Arts, he carried out anthropological research at the Institute of Industrial Sciences in Tokyo, and in 1973 founded his own practice under the name Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop. Initially focusing on residential projects, the bursting of the property bubble in the mid-1990s propelled his studio towards public commissions. He went on to design a number of large-scale projects, including Nagoya Zokein University, The Circle at Zurich airport, the Yokosuka art museum and the Ecoms house.

Riken Yamamoto’s visits to cities in the Maghreb (particularly Rabat, Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco) inspired his idea of the organic development of cities. The building takes precedence over the overall plan, and the experience of the inhabitant takes precedence over the vision of the urban planner. Passages, staggered courtyards and chicanes create sprawling cities. The aim is to convey their density, porosity and flexibility, and to highlight their cellular nature.

Rejecting all constrained urban interactions, Riken Yamamoto is betting on a spatiality that creates human flows through its unpredictability and flexibility. He plays between intimate and communal space through spatial subtleties: here, tiny windows, there a passageway, elsewhere glass walls, connect the different spaces while maintaining their independence. Transparency is a leitmotif in his creations, serving as a unifying tool and a lever of belonging: people inside discover their environment, while those outside forge a link with the public space.

Riken Yamamoto has brilliantly succeeded in creating a mutant, interactive and organic city.

Some of the projects that have become icons of his architecture: 

Hotakubo housing in Kumamoto, Japan, 1991

© Riken Yamamoto

Built in 1991, this complex is intended as a manifesto for a new conception of collective space. The buildings are organised around a central space that acts as a threshold, accessible only by the units. Although each housing unit is self-sufficient, it is the fact that they are all joined together that holds the whole programme together, with the central courtyard as the focal point. As Riken Yamamoto states in his book The Cellular City: “This plan is a mechanism for avoiding any overlap between the communal nature of the dwelling/family cell and that of the central square. The former always prevails.”

Yokosuka Art Museum, Japan, 2006

© Riken Yamamoto

Riken Yamamoto built the Yokosuka Art Museum between 2004 and 2007, opting for “a type of museum adapted to a long visit”. In the heart of an exceptional site, facing the Sagami Sea and surrounded by the mountains of Kanagawa, the natural landscape is at one with the building, most of whose architectural volume is buried in the ground. The interlocking caissons that make up the museum allow for an ingenious organisation, adapted to the environmental problems associated with the seaside site: the peripheral part is intended for public facilities, while the central part houses the sensitive exhibition and collection installations. The museum’s minimalist, sophisticated appearance is matched by the interior space, which is made up of curved staircases and punctual openings that offer views of the exterior. Riken Yamamoto won the Japanese Institute of Architects prize for this project in 2010.

Hiroshima Nishi fire station, Japan, 2000

© Riken Yamamoto

Built in 2000, the Hiroshima fire station resembles a veritable machine dedicated to public space: the entire building forms a transparent volume covered with glass louvres so that people can see various activities from the outside. The firefighters’ training areas, usually located off to the side, occupy the very heart of the building. Each interior installation revolves around an atrium, providing a pretext for a whole series of interactions. An exhibition hall and a vast observation gallery allow schoolchildren to watch training sessions through glass walls. In addition to its specific function, the site plays a role in shaping the local community.

The Circle at Zurich airport, Switzerland, 2020

© Riken Yamamoto

Riken Yamamoto was entrusted with this large-scale project in 2020, with the brief of surprising and inspiring visitors, reflecting “Swissness” and creating connections with the world. For this airport zone, the architect has created a compact, crescent-shaped unit that hugs the boundary of the site between the airport esplanade and the Butzenbüel, an open, undeveloped hill. 625 metres long and criss-crossed by regular windows, the building is reminiscent of the segmented spaces of a historic old town. Like alleyways, winding public passages, sheltered by a glass roof, cut through the compact mass of the building. Swiss medieval towns are a source of inspiration for the design of this space, which draws on their flexible structures to create modular, interconnected and sustainable spaces. The building has been awarded Leadership Energy and Environmental Design certification for its energy efficiency: heat and cold air are supplied from the ground, which is used as an accumulator by means of energy poles, and the roof is covered with photovoltaic installations. 

Considered a “Nobel of Architecture”, the Pritzker, founded in 1979, annually rewards the career of a living architect whose “the work has made a consistent and significant contribution to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. “.

Pauline Leroux