Toshiko Mori Honored With Museum of the City of New York’s Louis Auchincloss Prize – Architectural Digest

Toshiko Mori.

Photo: Ralph Gibson

More so than in most cities on earth, the architecture of New York is an inextricable component of its cultural milieu. Whether in films, works of fiction, or even musical theater, New York’s avenues and buildings often function not as texture but as characters themselves.

It’s therefore no great surprise that the Museum of the City of New York would honor an architect of Toshiko Mori’s stature with its Louis Auchincloss prize. Annually presented to “writers and artists whose work is inspired by and enhances the five boroughs of New York City,” the honor puts Mori in a class of fellow architects, critics, and cultural luminaries that includes Robert A.M. Stern, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Gloria Steinem.

Since arriving in New York from Japan in the late 1960s, the Cooper Union School of Architecture graduate has made her mark all over the city. Whether she’s navigating the complexities of New York University’s master plan or contemplating how something as simple as a subway canopy at Hudson Yards could foster a sense of peace and quiet at the end of a hectic workday, no project has proven too big or too small to demonstrate Mori’s careful study of her adopted home.

In a video accompanying the (remote) presentation of the Auchincloss prize, the AD100 architect noted how she designs for both clarity and longevity. Perhaps even more relevantly, she mentions how the Japanese concept of iyashi (which she translates as “healing”) runs through her work. She observed that “it’s in my ethos to provide those moments of repose in the architecture that I create” while never losing sight of how her work connects with the daily lives of those who encounter it.

Beyond the more immediate impact of her work on New Yorkers, Mori also made clear that she sees architecture as a tool for educating future generations both in the city and far beyond. As the department chair at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, whose namesake firm recently finished work on a school in a remote Senegalese village, Mori described teaching as “the birthright of architects,” noting a responsibility to pass on architectural knowledge to future generations. She further envisioned a study of cities and their architecture as an invaluable, inclusive tool that can teach children how to see the world, folding in not only architecture but seemingly disparate fields such as math and sociology.

Mori also believes the current pandemic may change our habits for the better while fostering a greater sense of openness in terms of the city’s spaces and communities. At a moment when many in New York and around the globe are figuring out how the built environment will change in a post-coronavirus world, they would certainly be wise to tap into her expertise.