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Japanese master builder Toyo Ito brings organic architecture into the 21st century by marrying forward-thinking form with function.

Visionary architect Toyo Ito has been challenging architectural paradigms for over 40 years. Combining innovative technological applications with an organic approach to structure, he creates innovative forms well worthy of their many plaudits. Earlier works, such as the highly acclaimed Tower of Winds (1986) project in Yokohama, demonstrate a subliminal response to Tokyo's urban landscape, as the building's exterior adapts to environmental aspects, such as light, wind and sound, via the use of sophisticated electronics. Answering the call for an end to soulless architecture, Ito's social structures marry 21st-century technology and materials with design innovation; his aim is to cater to more human needs than merely that of shelter. "The 20th-century philosophy has clear partitions, but nowadays urban cities are more chaotic, with more diverse needs. How do we create urban spaces from this point of view? This may be the challenge for architects. Many of the architects working presently are trying to adapt to convention, going back to history, but what is more important is the people; how they evolve, live; it is unique in each city," he states.

Although he is an ardent exponent of 20th-century architectural icon Le Corbusier's manifesto for urban living, he confesses, "In the beginning he was really polemic, too much discussion, his creations were not linked to his emotions; but what he did in the last moments were, for me, an ideal of luxury. However, Le Corbusier's dreams for the 20th century and today's life don't match anymore." During his early career, like Le Corbusier, Ito also constructed a number of housing projects responding to Japanese urban life.

In recent years, the 65-year-old Tokyo-based architect's work has shown a dramatic shift from the media saturated structures that celebrated Japan's booming "bubble years" of the late 1980s. Today his projects follow more sinuous, organic forms inspired by nature, as cutting edge technology is utilized more in the development stage, rather than as a structural feature. Take the biomorphic form of Sendai's Multimedia centre, or Tod's Omotesando store, with its forest-like graphic motif resembling a tree growing out of the busy commercial street. However, although totally fluid and natural in form, they still evolve from highly sophisticated techniques and a profound understanding of the technologies that first brought him fame. This is what sets Toyo Ito apart; his voracity to explore futuristic avenues even when faced with pre-existing boundaries, in terms of both engineering savoir-faire and tradition. Merging physical with virtual worlds, he explains, "Computer technology can help to analyze a complicated system. This system enables us to achieve specific solutions, depending on each process. For example, in the case of Gaudi, for 10 years he studied a new process, now technology can make it in one week."

The architect is currently working on a spa in the Spanish resort city of Torrevieja. Taking inspiration from the surrounding salt lakes and the swirling spiral seashells found on the nearby beaches, each shell-like building is a highly complex geometric construction, created from interwoven steel and wood. Complex, futuristic, but, above all, deeply inspiring, Toyo Ito heralds a new age in architecture.

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