Architect Tadao Ando’s Design Philosophy

B y S i n g u la r N e w m a n

Tadao Ando1) was born in Osaka Japan, on September 13th 1941, arriving minutes apart from his twin brother. At the young age of two, Ando’s parents decided that he should be raised by his grandmother. Tadao Ando was fortunate however, with his new-found surroundings. There were workshops ran by many skilled artisans, and also a carpentry shop where he would later learn, the techniques of wood craftsmanship. Ando’s earliest artistic endeavors were expressed with wood. Mostly, his designs were of wooden framed houses, and some wooden furniture. Ando was a mediocre student, so instead of pursuing an education, he followed the career path of his older twin brother, becoming a professional boxer by the age of seventeen. As his boxing career flourished, he spent the next few years traveling through Japan, Europe and the United States. Becoming seriously passionate about form and design, Ando quit his boxing career and enrolled as an apprentice to a carpenter. Had it not been for his tenacious eye for form and space, his drive and motivation on the subject matter, Ando might have become a humble builder, but he instead chose to become an architect.

By the age of 28 he opened his own architecture firm in Osaka, with his wife Yumikio. In Japan it was possible to become an Architect, without formal training at an institution. He accomplished the tasks, required for a four year program, within one year. He took the exam, becoming an official Architect. Unlike most of his peers, he stayed away from the busy streets of Tokyo, choosing instead to practice, in his own town of Osaka. He has stayed a fighter, so to speak. Feeling disappointed with the cultural and artistic attitudes of his day, he sets his sights on challenging the norms, expressing his original philosophy, one project at a time. Ando’s independence and break with tradition, is evidenced thoroughly throughout his work.

His Architecture feels new and rejuvenating. Geometric purity of form and space, intersect together making a statement. He is sure handed and concise. Like a boxer he goes for the knock out. He drives you into the corner, he is challenging you at all times, keeping you on your feet. His style is sharp, energetic, chaotic, yet in perfect balance, a combination of lights and shadows. Only after you go down for the count, and you are revived, your senses realize the scope of his art. Beauty is not important to logical structure, it is only secondary, it is an afterthought.

Ando’s architecture is mono systemic. A single idea is wrapped inside the core, veiled and shrouded by the outside forms. It is the concept of perfect purity. It is the form that space takes, coupled with emotion and sound, painted on a canvas of minimalism. It is a unity that can only be assembled, when you take into account, all the other distinct parts of the structure. His works manifest a silent criticism, of the other shapes found near, a social and emotional challenge to the surrounding fabric. I view Ando’s projects like a Picasso. You have to let yourself become captivated by the artwork. Absorbed by the painting in time, you are captivated by something. Something draws you in, and you can’t escape the force of its attraction. Depending on how long you dwell on it, the space takes on a dimension of its own. It can become different things, to different people and that is because of its unity of purpose. It seeks to illuminate, to cast a light where light is part of the overall dimensionality of the place. Light, shadow, form, become the nucleus of existence. It exists as a static multiplicity of forms and emotions. A haiku built of cement, wood and glass. He is like a painter of emotion, in real physical space. Love it or hate it, the statement is strong and it necessitates a reaction.

The simplistic forms produce an unequalled effect. I would go so far as to describe it, as an original form, slicing through to the core of post-modern architecture. It feels as if all elements belong together as one, unable to function apart from each other, a body of similitude. The craftsmanship of his architecture is also noteworthy. The extraordinary form-work is only eclipsed by the surrounding content. He uses monotone colors, allowing the material to express itself. Tension is created by the sheer and overwhelming emptiness, that encompasses you. Calm sets in, as you realize the purity that is instilled, by the essence of the spatial experience which reaches out and envelops you. Light is allowed to express its own form, unhindered by obstacles, reflections or shallow artificial highlights. Pure light particles of the Sol Invictus, absorbing themselves joyously, with the bare surface of concrete. The embodied innocence, of a still forest pond, autumn leaves slowly touching down on its surface, creating ripples into timelessness.

The wall, in form, space and time is the thesis of Ando’s Architecture. Monolithic and unmovable, the wall in Ando’s architecture represents stability, the foundation, earth. The entire building revolves around the wall. In the classical symphony, the wall played only a small, silent part. His thesis transforms the wall, into the defining moment of the space, becoming the center. No longer ignored, the wall has taken a sublime front row seat, it is to be admired and treasured, a purposeful symbol. It has become the substance, the medium of interaction between emptiness and matter, the translator between geometric purity and existential reality. Numbers reach out in concrete form, getting to know you through the reflected light and the casting of purposeful shadows.

Ando masters the triune elements of design, space and logic and is able to define and interpret them, through the technique of separation. Separated space diverges into different entities that maintain their separate characteristics, and yet only functioning, as part of the greater whole. Ando crystallizes space. He vitalizes separate spatial dimensions, connecting them to a centralized axis of purpose. As the quartz crystal adds infinite geometric formations, all mimicking the original seed crystal. The created spaces cluster and formulate various individualistic characteristics, while preserving unity, while preserving a symbiotic relationship.

Tadao Ando stands today as a symbol of Architectural perfection. I say symbol, because Architectural perfection if indeed the goal, that has always been pursued by humans as a species. Centuries upon centuries can be attributed to this quest. Once we discover what perfection is, we will be free to interpret what perfect Architecture is. For the time being, Ando proves a point and makes a statement. The point he makes is that less is more, not to sound cliché, and the statement that follows is that, Architecture is Art as well as technology. Perhaps one could say, a necessarily moving if not beautiful, sculpture of a machine for living in.


Massao Furuyama, Tadao Ando, Artemis Verlags-AG, Zurich, 1993 Tadao Ando, Rokko Housing, Edizioni Electa SpA, Milano, 1986


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