Riken Yamamoto Awarded Pritzker Architecture Prize 2024

Renowned architect Riken Yamamoto, hailing from Yokohama, Japan, has been named the prestigious 2024 Laureate of the globally acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize.

“For me, to recognise space, is to recognise an entire community,” Yamamoto expresses. “The current architectural approach emphasizes privacy, negating the necessity of societal relationships. However, we can still honour the freedom of each individual while living together in architectural space as a republic, fostering harmony across cultures and phases of life.”

Widely recognised as the pinnacle honour in the field of architecture, this award celebrates Riken Yamamoto’s exceptional contributions to the discipline. The 2024 Jury Citation states, in part, that he was selected “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…”

Riken Yamamoto was born in Beijing in 1945 and later relocated to Yokohama where he found his architectural ethos rooted in the delicate balance between public and private life.

Raised in a home embodying a traditional Japanese machiya, where family and community coexisted, Yamamoto’s architectural journey began. Inspired by an early encounter with Kôfuku-ji Temple’s architecture, he was captivated by the five-storied Pagoda symbolising the five Buddhist elements of earth, water, fire, air and space.

Finding his first experience with architecture, he decided to pursue architecture and graduated from Nihon University in 1968 – establishing Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop in 1973. His formative years involved extensive global exploration, shaping his belief in architecture as a universal language connecting diverse cultures and civilizations through shared spaces and experiences.

Yamamoto’s own home is designed to invoke interaction with neighbors from terraces and rooftops. Photo Credit: Tomio Ohashi

Yamamoto truly changes how we think about spaces. He blurs the borders into places where public and private life meet. His projects, big and small, show how spaces themselves are important, focusing on the life they hold.

He uses transparency so that people inside can see outside, and those passing by feel connected – considering the existing natural and built environments, fitting into the surroundings. Influenced by traditional Japanese and Greek housing, his architecture reflects historical connections and community vitality. Notably, GAZEBO (Yokohama, Japan 1986) and Ishii House (Kawasaki, Japan 1978) show his dedication to encouraging interaction and harmony in built spaces.

For me, to recognise space, is to recognise an entire community. The current architectural approach emphasises 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.Yamamoto expresses.

Residence in the Lap of Nature

Riken Yamamoto reshaped the delineations separating public and private spaces, viewing them as avenues to uplift society collectively.

Yamakawa Villa. Photo Credit: Tomio Ohashi

He embraced the idea that every space could contribute to the well-being of an entire community, extending beyond individual occupants. Yamamoto’s design philosophy emerged in his early projects, such as the Yamakawa Villa (Nagano, Japan 1977), a single-family residence surrounded by nature, resembling an open-air terrace.

Community Living

In larger developments, Yamamoto integrates relational aspects to ensure residents, even those living alone, are not isolated.

Pangyo Housing, photo courtesy of Nam Goongsun

The Pangyo Housing project (Seongnam, Republic of Korea 2010) exemplifies this approach. Comprising nine low-rise housing blocks, the design incorporates transparent ground floor spaces, enhancing connections between neighbors.

Pangyo Housing, photo courtesy of GA Photographers

A shared deck on the second floor promotes interaction, providing areas for communal gatherings, playgrounds, gardens, and bridges connecting different housing blocks. This thoughtful design encourages a sense of community and shared spaces, creating an environment where residents can engage with one another and form meaningful connections.

Architectural Transparency

In the Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station (Hiroshima, Japan, 2000), Yamamoto transforms architecture into transparency.

The façade, interior walls and floors of Hiroshima Nishi Fire Station (2000) are constructed of glass, lending the appearance of an entirely transparent volume. Photo Credit: Tomio Ohashi

 The building’s glass louvered façade and interior walls offer an unobstructed view of the central atrium, revealing the daily activities and training of firefighters. This design not only serves its functional purpose but also engages the public by providing designated areas for observation, fostering a sense of community trust and connection with the civil servants dedicated to ensuring public safety.

A Dynamic Experience

Considering the user experience first, Yokosuka Museum of Art is envisioned as both a destination
for travelers and a daily reprieve for locals.

Photo courtesy of Tomio Ohashi

Photo Credit: Tomio Ohashi

The sinuous entrance mirrors Tokyo Bay and neighbouring mountains, while the subterranean galleries offer an uninterrupted visual encounter with the natural surroundings. Round cutouts in communal areas enable visitors to glimpse the landscape and other galleries, harmonising disparate environments. This integration fosters a collective experience where observers are influenced not only by the exhibited artwork but also by the dynamic interactions unfolding in adjacent spaces.

A Collaborative Learning Experience

Photo Credit: Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop

Saitama Prefectural University is a specialised university for nursing and health sciences designed contextually and keeping community engagement in mind, with nine interconnected buildings linked by terraces and green spaces. Transparent volumes not only provide views between classrooms but also connect different parts of the campus, encouraging interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. With laboratories strategically placed on the first floor, the design fosters relationships between specialties. The intentional blurring of boundaries between buildings creates a distinctive architectural language, shaping a cohesive and innovative learning environment.

The Library for the Masses

The Tianjin Library. Photo courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

A large entry hall spans north to south along the entirety of Tianjin Library, yielding maximum
access of this large-scale building. The collection of six million books lines its bookshelves, which
are incorporated into the intersecting grid of wall beams, up to 30-meters in length, resulting in
seemingly floating stacks.

Photo courtesy of Nacasa & Partners

Each of the five levels features a mezzanine, so that the building appears as ten crisscrossing levels, and from any floor, visitors may view several other levels around them due to the vast openness of the design. The outer skin of the library is composed of stone louvers to not only mitigate the effects of yellow dust conditions but also achieve transparency. A resulting soft light lends to the ambience of the many diverse reading rooms, reflecting the wide range of readers, across generations, identities and interests, who frequent this public venue.