Architect Toyo Ito is a Pritzker Architecture Prize 2013 winner and an influential professional worldwide, famously known for his projects which combine innovative design and poetic use of technology and structural engineering. In December 2021, he was invited as a guest lecturer on the BEIL6013 BE Nomad Japan course at UNSW Sydney to share his insights into the urban environment in Tokyo and design philosophy. Toyo Ito has discussed, at first, opportunities and problems of modern city development, particularly in the context of Tokyo; second, the design philosophy of architecture is embedded in his works alongside his long professional practice and research; and third, his reflection on the pandemic taught us to rethink our position on nature.

Opportunities and Problems of modern city development in the context of Tokyo

Since the 18th century, Tokyo, previously called Edo, has been bustling with activities as its rich geographical features, including Sumida River, Tokyo Bay and various size green spaces scattered across the city, which accommodated a wide range of traditional, diversified and public activities over the past 200 years.

In recent decades, urbanization and population growth accelerated the high-rise residential redevelopment in Tokyo, which gradually dominated the lands next to train stations and shopping malls because of the convenience of living and on the waterside as a sea view of Tokyo Bay. This phenomenon highlighted the characteristics and opportunities of typical modern cities but also revealed their urban problems. For instance, verticalization and prioritizing business caused the urban living away from nature, homogenized spaces within cities resulted in a lack of uniqueness. These research findings defined a new urban dimension and as well as the perspective of Japanese architectural space, which lies at the roof of Toyo Ito’s professional practice and research.

The design philosophy of architecture embedded in Toyo Ito’s recent works

His lecture expressed architectural design philosophy, which focuses on creating human spaces but not rooms, creating spaces with an ambiguous boundary between inside and outside, and designing flows thoughtfully.

National Taichung Theater, Taiwan, is an example to illustrate his notion of creating the blurred boundary and as well as designing flows. This theatre is notable for its cavernous, curved and folded interior forms using the hourglass-shaped volumes as to the primary structure. The curving surfaces of facades poetically pull the visitors into the foyer. At the same time, its dynamic shell also has a mysterious play of light and shadow to blur the building edge between interior spaces and surrounding landscaping. In the layout plan, internal corridors, public spaces and pathways outside the building are connected seamlessly to express the idea of the flow of people and air. At the same time, in elevation, the composition of hourglass-shaped columns formed the sound caves to elaborate the ideas of sound passing through the spaces. This theatre successfully illustrates how Toyo Ito’s design philosophy could be implied in his works in considering the human space, blurred boundary and distinctive design of flows

The reflection on the pandemic and how to rethink our position in relation to nature

Toyo Ito concluded his lecture by reminding us of our responsibility to nature. In his sketch, bees pollinate the plants by carrying the pollen from one flower to another; similarly, infected people spread the virus from them to other people, which reminds us that humans are similar to all other animals in the world that we are also part of and influenced by nature.