MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Pritzker Architecture Prize is the biggest award in the field. It's often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. This year's winner was announced this morning. As NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, it's someone who knows what it's like to be without any architecture at all.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: When Arata Isozaki was a kid growing up in Japan, he was surrounded by the destruction of World War II. His hometown burned. Across the shore was Hiroshima. Here's how he tells the story in a video announcing his Pritzker win.
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ARATA ISOZAKI: (Speaking Japanese).
LIMBONG: "Surrounding were no buildings, no architecture. There was not even a city. There was only a ruin." This was the beginning of Isozaki's search for what he calls meaningful architecture. It's a search that still continues at the age of 86. In fact, the Pritzker jury awarded him the prize in part because he's never settled on a single approach to his work.
DAVID GAULD: He doesn't have a signature style like some architects.
LIMBONG: That's David Gauld, a New York-based architect who's known Isozaki for over 30 years.
GAULD: He's my mentor and in many ways, my hero.
LIMBONG: Gauld says Isozaki approached every project, every site with fresh eyes.
GAULD: Consequently, no two of his buildings look alike.
LIMBONG: Take, for instance, two of his American works, starting with COSI. That's the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, on which Gauld worked with Isozaki. It's a huge building, one that Doug Buchanan, who works as the VP of membership and marketing there, can often spot when he's flying over the city.
DOUG BUCHANAN: It has these enormous concrete wings that stretch off into the distance when you enter the building. And you enter under a multi-story-tall gold cylinder that actually contains - inside it is Ohio's largest planetarium.
LIMBONG: And if you look at the building from the back, you can see the curved wings envelop a part of Columbus history.
BUCHANAN: Isozaki actually wrapped the arms of COSI around Columbus' historic Central High School, which was built in 1924. And it's a perfect addition to incorporate into a science museum because it's a school, and science education is central to what we do.
LIMBONG: Compare that with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. MOCA, as it's known, was finished in 1986. It's a low building, much lower than the downtown LA high-rises that surround it. It's also red, made of sandstone, which pops against the glass and steel of the rest of the neighborhood. Klaus Biesenbach is the museum's director.
KLAUS BIESENBACH: It has these beautiful skylights and pyramids that brings the light from the outer world into the museum. But it's also very much dedicated to the art that this museum is famous for.
LIMBONG: Past the ticket office on street level, you walk down to get into the museum's galleries.
BIESENBACH: What Isozaki so brilliantly did with MOCA is that he used a very Los Angeles motifs of pool. It's like a sunk in pool.
LIMBONG: Arata Isozaki has designed museums in Spain, Japan, Italy. He's seen more than a hundred of his designs actually built, including an Olympic arena, an inflatable concert hall meant to tour places hit by disaster, a high school in his hometown which has been rebuilt since the war. In much the same way out of the ashes of destruction, Isozaki built a career in architecture.
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ISOZAKI: (Speaking Japanese).
LIMBONG: "This was the start of my life in architecture." Isozaki himself might have grown up without buildings to look at and learn from, but he's making sure that isn't the case for the rest of us. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
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