A LOT OF architects aim for a sort of immortality through their work - to leave something behind after they're gone. Not so Toyo Ito. That's because his buildings are designed to change as the way they're used changes. This is architecture that evolves; these are buildings that are alive. So his seminal 2001 Sendai Mediatheque cultural centre, for instance, keeps changing as its many uses change; while the building that first made his name, the U House - a surreal U-shaped construction built in the centre of Tokyo in 1976 for his sister after her husband died - was destroyed in 1997 as part of the natural progression of her mourning. The architect may not be immortalised in concrete, but paradoxically his involvement with buildings becomes more long-term; rather than just throwing the building up and that being the end of it, his influence is retained as its use evolves. 'I am more interested in the human than in the architecture itself,' he says. 'For me, the architectural product has to be just like a human life; it has to change in time and with the situation. If you're looking for immortality in architecture, in fact it will be dead, because it won't evolve.' You'll hear lots of talk about buildings being sensitive to their physical environment, but for Ito, sensitivity to the human environment is even more important; rather than blending in with what's around them, his buildings blend with the desires, priorities and cultural needs of the people who use them. Appropriately, Ito likes to draw analogies between his buildings and the human body, and this is a profoundly human architecture. His work attempts to divorce architecture from its obsession with geometric forms and reintroduce humanity, and the uses to which it will put a building, as the primary guiding force in that building's design. Taking this need to factor human use into architecture back to first principles, he has joked that 'the floor, for example, needs to be flat'. The evolution of Ito's work has seen him move from geometric forms to fluid ones that seem to move, such as the solar-powered, dragon-shaped Kaohsiung National Stadium in Taiwan, which opened in 2008. The architect uses trees as an analogy; they are not symmetrical, he says, because external factors such as wind, light and balance affect their growth. Likewise, in his 'emergent' buildings, he starts from a given point of entry and sees what results. Tower of Winds, built in Yokohama in 1986, is reactive to its environment in this way, lighting up spectacularly at night thanks to 12 vertical luminous rings that roughly mark the hour and 1,280 LEDs that create a constantly evolving light show based on the wind speed and direction. The tower demonstrates Ito's idea of 'media clothing' - that people's clothes, and by extension the architecture they surround themselves with, reflect their environment, and these days that environment is primarily media-driven. One might expect Ito's focus on the human use of buildings to lead to wildly variant designs for different places with different cultures, but Ito says that, anti-intuitively, looking for the distinctive actually leads back to the familiar; people, he contends, use buildings in fairly similar ways the world over. 'Many big cities have become similar: Tokyo, Singapore, New York, even the cities of Europe. I looked back again and asked: don't we have any architecture that can bring colour from the local area and power people's lives?' His latest project, developer Wing Tai's Belle Vue Residences on a 248,000 sq ft site near the centre of Singapore, is Ito's first major residential undertaking. Featuring 176 units in a remarkable 40 separate types, it has the feel of a Japanese garden. 'I really loved the site,' he says. 'It required a high density of buildings, so I had to come up with something different - it was a challenging project.' Wing Tai deputy chairman Edmund Cheng comments that with Ito, as one of the architect's heroes Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously put it, God is in the details: 'I really admire Ito for creating something so special, so unique,' he says. 'A lot of famous architects aren't really involved with the buildings they design; they just hand them on to people who work for them. Ito has been very, very involved at every level.' Unlike many luxury developments, which wall residents off from their neighbours, isolating them in the name of privacy, Belle Vue Residences deliberately blurs the barrier between the interior and the exterior, something that Ito has done throughout his career, and that he considers to be quintessentially Japanese, because 'in Japan there is not a clear definition between inside and outside'. In the past, he says, there was a lot more distinction between the interior and exterior, but with modern lifestyles this distinction is disappearing. 'In order to create a boundary between them, I was looking for architecture that doesn't have physical form or shape - I was interested in translating natural phenomena such as light and sound into architecture. That has always been my interest, up till recently. However, my interest slightly shifted with Sendai; there were a lot more things to make to empower the people, not just to translate from nature. It was about human use.' Ito says that his favourite architect is Brutalist pioneer Le Corbusier (Brutalist architecture, raw and modern, flourished from the 1950s to the mid 1970s). 'The curved forms come naturally, from my connection with nature growing up,' says Ito. 'If I'd grown up in Manhattan, I'd come up with a lot more straight-line architecture.' His buildings also betray the influence of fellow modernist master Mies van der Rohe's structurally minimalist, skin-and-bones constructions. In the end, though, and perhaps uniquely among architects, Ito has reached a place where his work has very little to do with actual buildings. 'For me, design is not how it looks, but the process itself,' he says. 'The appearance is not important.' It's an organic process of balancing various factors, with human use at the centre. It makes the process of designing buildings, and the results, less arbitrary - and it's perhaps this, rather than any specific building, that is Ito's greatest architectural legacy. 'It is not primarily for me to argue which design is the best,' he says. 'I think it is meaningless.'