Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando 安藤忠雄

Tadao Ando (b.1941) is Japan's most internationally famous architect, and is known for minimalist building design that expresses through the medium of bare concrete the vaunted Japanese qualities of simplicity and harmony with the natural.

Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum by Tadao Ando Kyushu Japan.
Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum by Tadao Ando, Part of the Artpolis Project in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Ando's Early Life

Ando's interest in architecture is said to have sparked with the decision of his grandmother (who brought him up) to make extensions to the house they lived in in Osaka (the city where another prominent Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange, was born). Also, across from where he was brought up was a carpentry store, which inspired Ando to make wooden models for himself during his childhood, in the process of which he learnt about "the absolute balance between a form and the material from which it is made."

Ando took part in a class trip to Tokyo in his second year at senior high school, and was particularly inspired by the Imperial Hotel, a hotel in Tokyo, designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1857-1969) (which was demolished in 1967 and just the iconic lobby moved to Meiji Mura in Aichi Prefecture).

Ando also took up boxing that year, and for two years after graduating high school dedicated himself to boxing, saving the prize money he earned as a successful boxer to help fund his architectural ambitions. He also worked as a truck driver during this time.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art by Tadao Ando

Ando the Autodidact

After graduating high school, Ando was without the financial means to enter university, however he pursued architecture as an interest. In that pursuit, he was influenced by the approach of the Art Association of Gutai, AKA the Gutai Group, a band of artists, largely from Kansai: the region where Ando lived, who were active from the 1950s until the early 1970s and rejected the traditional approach, seeking to promote individual expression that was nevertheless fostered by a sense of community.

He worked part-time at architects' offices in Osaka, absorbing and studying architectural skills on his own, and thus eventually procuring an architect's license.

Ando's Overseas Experience

At age 28, in 1965, Tadao Ando set off on a backpacking tour of the world, first to Europe via Siberia, and including Greece, Africa, India, returning to Japan in 1965. He made voluminous notes and sketches of buildings he encountered on his travels, and was especially influenced by the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier (who designed the National Museum of Western Art Tokyo). On his return to Japan, Ando launched himself as an architect at this point, but with little work to be had took it upon himself to approach homeowners with proposals for renovation and rebuilding.

Path to Success

The job by which Ando made his first mark in architecture was his Sumiyoshi no Nagaya (Sumiyoshi Row House) whose owner charged him with designing a house without windows, on a tiny piece of land, and on a very strict budget. The house, built in 1976, somewhat sacrificed functionality and convenience (factors that Ando does not take as architectural absolutes) to achieve a strikingly simple yet almost otherworldly design in plain concrete, with the light penetrating by way of a small internal courtyard. Three years later, Ando was awarded the 1979 Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan for Design, setting him on the path to success. This design encapsulated nearly all Ando's designs thereafter in its manipulation of air and light using geometrically shaped reinforced concrete walls.

Honpukuji Temple, the "Water Temple" on Awaji Island, rebuilt in 1991, is typical of the Ando approach. The design request was for "a temple people would flock to see" and Ando succeeded in getting the temple's assent to a design that did away with the roof - the ultimate architectural symbol of authority - in favor of a lotus pond, under which sits the temple.

In 1995, Ando was awarded that year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, the citation for which stated that "In spite of his consistent use of materials and the elements of pillar, wall, and vault, his different combinations of these elements always prove exciting and dynamic."

The Ando Magic

Ando has since designed scores of structures throughout Japan and the world, distinguished by their use of simple geometric forms to achieve a sophisticated sense of height, breadth and depth - a kind of grandeur that is far from imposing and histrionic, but memorable all the same. In his prioritizing of mood over functionality, and in his trademark geometric style, Ando very much treats architecture as an art in its own right, that serves the needs of the mind as much as those of the body.

Notable Ando Designed Structures

Some of Tadao Ando's most accessible works in Tokyo are Omotesando Hills (2006) in Tokyo's Aoyama district; Kaminoge Station (2011) on the Tokyu Oimachi Line; Bigi Atelier (1983), Tadao Ando's own design office in Hachiyama-cho, Shibuya ward. In the Kansai area there is the Osaka Culturarium at Tempozan (formerly known as the Suntory Museum) (1994) in Osaka; the Church of the Light (1989) in Ibaraki, Osaka; the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art (1995) in Kyoto; the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (2002) in Kobe; and the Museum of Literature II, Himeji (1996).

Naoshima Island is known as a repository of large-scale modern Japanese art, and includes several buildings designed by Ando, including the Benesse House and the Tadao Ando Museum.

Internationally, Ando is known for his design of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2002) in Texas, USA; the Aurora Museum (2013) in Shanghai, China; the Bonte Museum (2012) in Seogwipo, South Korea; and the water feature and pavilion in Piccadilly Gardens (2002) in Manchester, UK.

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