#Designerama: Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando (忠雄 忠雄, born September 13th, 1941 in Minato-ku, Osaka) is a Japanese architect. His minimalistic design is strongly influenced by the traditional Japanese design and focuses on elegant and simple shapes. Ando creates buildings in which light, water, wind and concrete mix in an exciting way.

Tadao Ando is the only architect to have won the four most important international awards in his industry: the Pritzker Prize, the Praemium Imperiale, the Carlsberg Architecture Prize and the Kyoto Prize. He has never visited an academy or university, but has acquired his knowledge in self-study and architecture trips to the USA, Europe and Africa. In 1969 he founded his own office, Tadao Ando Architect & Associates in Osaka.

Today, Tadao Ando is probably the best-known Japanese architect and has decisively influenced the international perception of Japanese architecture. His architecture combines elements of the Japanese tradition with those of modernity. Characteristic of his buildings is a geometrical rigor and clarity, a pronounced predilection for concrete and a sense of the specificity of the place. The architect strives to create a private space for each person. The walls are of great importance. They have the power to spread the space and create new territories.

His Career

Early in his life Ando was interested in boxing, which he also made his profession. After his time as a professional boxer, he taught himself to be an architect in the 1960s, taking trips to Europe, the USA and Africa. At the end of the decade, 1969, he opened his own architectural firm “Tadao Ando Architect & Associates” in Osaka. His first eye-catching work was the Azuma House in Osaka, Japan, for which he received the Japanese Institute of Architects’ Prize in 1979. This and all his later works are characterized by the special minimalism that has become Ando’s trademark. In the 1980s, Ando designed three churches dedicated to the natural elements wind, water and light.

On his travels, Tadao Ando also seeked out works by Le Corbusier. His consistent use of concrete as well as the minimalist style of the Frenchman left behind visible traces in Ando’s work. Particularly impressed was the then young man of the monastery Sainte Marie de la Tourette near Lyons and the Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut de Ronchamp. The latter made him aware of his original architectural requirements: the gathering of people and their interaction with one another. The minimalist buildings of brutalism, which were mainly restrained in their materials, were deeply influential on Ando’s architecture.

Row House/Azuma House

This house was created by complex factors that Ando had to face, such as the tradition of Japan, the modernity, the wishes and the limited resources of the builder and his understanding of aesthetics. The Azuma House was completed in 1976. The building was divided into three equally sized areas. This rhythm runs like a common thread throughout the house. In the inner court of the building is a staircase which is connected to an inner bridge which stretches over the whole courtyard and leads to the bedroom. An approach in which simple, geometrical means are used to create a complex development of the building, thus creating a spatial experience. As closed as this building may appear, it is open to nature. The inner courtyard is closed to the street, but opens to the sky. This house protects the privacy of the residents and opens up to nature.

Koshino House

Tadao Ando’s design for the Koshino House features two parallel concrete rectangular confines. The forms are partially buried into the sloping ground of a national park and become a compositional addition to the landscape. Placed carefully as to not disrupt the pre-existing trees on the site, the structure responds to the adjacent ecosystem while the concrete forms address a more general nature through a playful manipulation of light. The northern volume consists of a two-storey height containing a double height living room, a kitchen and a dining room on the first floor with the master bedroom and a study on the second floor. The southern mass then consists of six linearly organized children’s bedrooms, a bathroom and a lobby. Connecting the two spaces is a below grade tunnel that lies beneath the exterior stairs of the courtyard.

Church of the Light

The Church of the Light is the main chapel of the Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church, a member church of the United Church of Christ in Japan. It was built in 1989, in the city of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture. The relatively small church building consists of a concrete cube with a side length of 5.9 meters wide, 17.7 meters in length and 5.9 meters in height. The building is characterized by a minimalistic reduction. The church is in the dark. The cruciform is cut into the concrete of the altar wall and. When you sit inside, the morning sun shines through glazed light-slits and forms a cross with its rays. Economical means, great effect. The building is a masterpiece of the minimalistic sacred architecture that represents the view that clutter disturbs spirituality.

Rokko Housing I-III

The Rokko I-III housing complex in Kobe, Japan, is probably the largest building of the star architect Tadao Ando and the dream of every master builder: a project that is growing and developing over the years.

It consists of 244 residential units built between 1981 and 2000 in three stages. The 20 apartments of Rokko I are located on the outskirts of Kobe. This district of the metropolis is home for wealthy businessmen and families. The settlement lies at the foot of the steep Rokko mountain range and has been dug right into the south-facing slope with a gradient of 60 degrees. The location is ideal in the opinion of Japanese geomancy: the distance to the sea is short and the view far, the back of the house is protected by the mountain, and the slight slope wind and dense vegetation provide cooling in the summer.

Rokko II is located slightly above the buildings of the first stage and was built between 1989 and 1993. The complex has 50 units, but it is four times the size of Rokko I. Rokko I was aimed at young and successful people and is clearly playing with the idea of ​​living together. Rokko II, on the other hand, is a fruit of the Japanese bubble economy in the nineties. It is pure luxury.

Rokko III is again three times the size of Rokko II. Although the 174 housing units were planned for a long time, their construction was only made possible by the 1995 earthquake. The complex is located on a plateau above Rokko I and II and consists of five seven-storey living rooms, which together form a large L following the slope line. At the foot of the long side are four three-storey atrium houses. Rokko III has a total area of ​​24,000 square meters. In addition, there is a swimming pool and a gym, placed in a quadrangular building in the corner of the L.

A few modern Buildings by Ando


Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri opened in 2001
Tadao Ando designed the japan Pavilion for the 1992 International Exposition in Seville, Spain.
The Water Temple is the residence of Ninnaji Shingon, the oldest sect of Tantric Buddhism in Japan, founded in 815. Completed in 1991
Commissioned by UNESCO in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Organization’s Constitution
The Suntory Museum in Osaka, constructed 1994
The Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art opened in 2002
Stone Hill Center completed in 2008
21_21 Design Sight is a museum in Roppongi in Minato, Tokyo, Japan, which opened in 2007

Tadao Ando’s Signature Material: Concrete

Ando’s chosen building material is reinforced concrete. Nearly all of his buildings are constructed the composition of concrete, steel and glass. With its boldness and modernity, his buildings consist of geometric forms whose smooth concrete surfaces define pristine sculpted spaces. Ando’s concrete is often referred to as “smooth-as-silk.” He explains that the quality of construction does not depend on the mix itself, but rather on the form work into which the concrete is cast. Because of the tradition of wooden architecture” in Japan, the craft level of carpentry is very high. Wooden form work, where not a single drop of water will escape from the seams of the forms depends on this. Watertight forms are essential. Otherwise, holes can appear and the surface can crack.

His form moulds, or wooden shuttering as it is called in Japan, are even varnished to achieve smooth-as-silk finish to the concrete. The evenly spaced holes in the concrete, that have become almost an Ando trademark, are the result of bolts that hold the shuttering together. Ando’s concrete is both structure and surface, never camouflaged or plastered over.

Tadao Ando was a professor at Tokyo University until 2003 and taught at American universities Harvard, Yale and Columbia. Over the past few years, he has also become increasingly involved in environmental policy. In 2007, he launched the project “Umi-no-Mori” (“Sea Forest”) in Tokyo, where an artificial island, formerly used as a dump, will become a wooded recreation area.

Tadao Ando has shaped the global image of Japanese architecture like no other architect. He has the ability to combine modernity with traditional Japanese. This symbiosis enables him to create his own architecture.