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Do|Co|Mo|Mo|Japan|19 : Oita Prefectural Library : Arata Isozaki

Do|Co|Mo|Mo is an international organisation dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement. The Japanese branch has selected 100 works as representative of the development of the Modern Movement in Japan. In a series of short posts I will feature some of the selected works that I have had the chance to visit and photograph. This post features the Oita Prefectural Library, designed by Arata Isozaki and completed in 1966...


Isozaki had studied at Tange Lab, Kenzo Tange’s teaching unit at Tokyo University Graduate School, at the same time as several students who, along with others, would go on to form the loose grouping known as the Japanese Metabolists. After graduating in 1954, Isozaki worked in Tange’s office and occasionally collaborated with the Metabolist group but never became a member. He established his own office in 1963 and Oita Prefectural Library is one of his first independent works.

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966).

Isozaki is often described as being of the avant-garde but, whilst it is true that his work has constantly moved with the times, he has operated more in the role of reporter rather than initiator. Oita Prefectural Library, for example, seems to look backwards rather than forwards. Over time his work has reflected all of the major international and national movements including: Modernism, Brutalism, Metabolism (although not a member of the Metabolist group) and Postmodernism. Where he has moved outside those broad categories it has usually been in response to the work of specific architects such as Hans Hollein or James Stirling.


Ōita Prefectural Library (now Ōita Art Plaza) can be read as late Le Corbusian Modernism, or Brutalism. Hiroyasu Fujioka has read it as a direct challenge to Metabolist theories of change and growth. What would be the consequence, he asks, if a building proposed under Metabolist principles was destined to maintain its original form and disposition so that the presumed growth was instead cut off abruptly, leaving the exposed ends of the square concrete tubes as a powerful statement of an architecture in ‘frozen stasis’.[i]

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966).

It’s an intriguing and enjoyable theory, but other potential influences on the form of the building are available, most clearly in the work of Paul Rudolph through a number of projects and buildings he produced in the early 1960’s, including the Milam Residence in 1961 and the Christian Science Student Centre at the University of Illinois in 1965. But the closest formal comparisons can be drawn with Rudolph’s Orange County Government Centre designed in 1963 and completed in 1967.

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966).

Orange County Government Centre : Paul Rudolph. Completed (1967). Image taken from Phaidon website

Orange County Government Centre : Paul Rudolph. Final design drawing (1963).

(unknown author)

Orange County Government Centre : Paul Rudolph. Design Drawings (1963). Both massing and section could be models for Isozaki's design. (unknown author)

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966). Interior of main hall.

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966). Shades of Le Corbusier.


In truth perhaps none of Isozaki’s projects, taken individually, is particularly significant to the history or development of architecture and architectural ideas. The significance of his work as a whole is that it records all of the major moves in 20th century architecture, not only Japanese architecture, but also international architecture. Isozaki has kept his finger on the pulse of international developments through cultivation of personal contacts with major architects around the world. In addition to feeding into his own designs, his connections have enabled him to work in other countries. His practice website indicates that, between 1997 and 2018 his office undertook over sixty projects of which only three were located in Japan. This last fact appears to have been instrumental in his receiving the Pritzker Prize in 2019. The jury citation described him as: a pioneer in understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local - that those two forces are part of a single challenge. For many years, he has been trying to make certain that areas of the world that have long traditions in architecture are not limited to that tradition… This suggests the existence of some intransigent cultures that need enlightenment and that Isozaki has been undertaking some kind of missionary work. Others have read the situation differently, accusing Isozaki of a mercenary recycling of ideas to any country that will hire him.

Oita Prefectural Library (Now Oita Art Plaza) : Arata Isozaki (1966).

All images by John Barr unless otherwise noted

© John Barr 2021

[i] Fujioka, Hiroyasu. Translated by Ohnishi, Shin’Ichiro. The Japan Architect No.57 (Spring 2005). p.165.


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