Tadao Ando Interview


The difference between Tadao Ando's work and modem architecture in the West lies in the understanding of nature. The Japanese accept nature and live with it but in the West buildings protect the inhabitants from nature. For our generation, scientific and technological advance is so significant, Ando suggests, that we have become conditioned by it, but he believes that in the next generation science will be balanced by nature. Opposed to the creeping menace of consumerism, he has a profound respect for nature, the influence of climate, the change of seasons, weather, wind and rain, based on the animistic national religion of Shinto. He predicts that in future Eastern and Western preoccupations will overlap and open up a new world. By his mid thirties Ando began to think of an international architecture which could only be conceived by a Japanese. His potential contribution to the small home and compact Cities is enormous. Ando is a native of 0saka a historic port and an oriental Venice where commerce is combined with creativity. He is fond of the vigorous but sadly disappearing life of the old market arcades where people engage with each other with a passion reminiscent of Mediterranean cities.

He studied the traditional architecture of nearby Nara and Kyoto and was impressed by harmony of the temples, shrines and tea houses with their natural surroundings. His aggressive temperament hesays found tranquillity in the rock gardens of The Roanji shrine. Contemporary buildings do not possess the Japanese spirit since the disastrous war, the nation has been influenced by the cultural imperialism of the U.S.A. Many of the old customs have been lost including a distinctive way of thinking. Ando wishes to revive these conceptual values in architecture and pass them on to future generations. The priority given to economy and function have obscured the real possibilities of modem architecture. Ease of construction and efficiency have been over-emphasised at the eexpense of spatial richness. "With the elimination of key principles such as symbolism and ornament you soon lose the quality of life", he says. He has studied these missing elements and tried to re-interpret them in his own designs.

Never formally trained as an architect, this rebellious ex-boxer claims that he did most of his learning from books. As a young man he was most influenced by a master craftsman neighbour who taught him how to make things by carefully examining each stage of the process, considering all the possibilities and deciding on appropriate materials and tools. His first attempts were modest in scale, furniture, interiors and small wooden houses, but he began to experiment. Architecture in Japan relies on carpenters and craftsmanship. "You learn building with your body", Ando says "You present your sketch proposals and build while making changes to the working drawings on the site". He wonders if he is happy as an architect-. perhaps he should have been a craftsman. He worries the moment he hands his drawings over and gives up his participation in the process. Not knowing what a building will look like until it is completed, he has never been satisfied with what he has built. No matter how traditional the function Ando uses modern materials and is influenced by the geometry of Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright. Concrete, inspired by Corb's Unites d'Habitation is his trademark, used in a rough dynamic way with the quality of construction dependent on the wooden formwork. Sukiya wooden houses have honed the skills of Japanese carpenters so that not a drop of water escapes from the formwork. This results in a hard smooth surface without the holes which would cause rapid deterioration. Concrete appears alien to the traditional sensibility so he aims for a beautiful sensual finish which is closer to the gentleness of paper or wood. Such a surface gives a fresh look, however the climate and pollution are harmful to concrete and it is periodically brushed and coated with a matt preservative.

The intense bleaching Japanese sunlight favours the austere ivory finish of concrete. It is however the interplay between solid and void, lightness and darkness which brings his buildings to life. A serene beauty is experienced in traditional paper architecture when spaces are illuminated by soft dappled rays of translucent light. In Ando's buildings nature is not embodied so much by physical matter as by the movement of light. He creates arrays of light and dark spaces by orientating rooms in different directions. Introducing slotted windows into the roof and walls, he is able to manipulate the quality of daylight, direct and reflected. Sublime examples are the Ikibara Church of Light, the Koshimo Ashiya Residence and the Awaii Water Temple. According to Ando there are two types of conmfort spiritual which is found in darkness and physical which is found in light. The body needs both, but comfort varies between nationalities and architects trying to impose a universal level are mistaken. Small scale projects are very important to him nowadays when he is engaged on large commissions. Now in his mid-fifties he says that should his creative life diminish he would return to little buildings and keep up the momentum of ideas which were expressed in early schemes such as the Row House in Sumiyoshi. Spaces should be for physical comfort and spiritual enrichment; the challenge is to create new spaces, rich in potential, which had not been experienced before.

During my Japan Foundation fellowship I was privileged to interview Tadao Ando in his cavernous office surrounded by exquisite architectural models and an enormous wall of books.

Graham Cooper : One is very conscious of the attention you have given to the landscape outside your buildings and to the way you invite nature in the form of water into your buildings. Perhaps Ando san is becoming more of a garden designer?
Tadao Ando : I am very fond of the Alhambra but
water is also important in Japanese culture for cleansing and spiritual reasons. The tradition of gardens of artficial nature is very strong. As the city becomes more monstrous, the demand to have trees and gardens grows. Nature and landscape make a fundamental contribution to my own build ings and water has always played an important part in the Japanese psyche. I wish to capture other climatic features such as the seasonal changes and the weather, allowing the user to experience the wind and the rain as part of their domestic routine.

GC : You appear to capture the surrounding nature and encapsulate it, as if it wore interior space.
Ando : These external spaces are considered exterior rooms, an integral aspect of my design approach. A building should contain a balance between meaningful wasted space and efficiency. (The blurring of intermediate space between interior and exterior, a feature of Ando's buildings, is port of a Japanese awareness known as Ma)

GC : Your buildings explore the garden design concept of Shakkei, the extension of foreground with borrowed views of the more distant landscape. On the other hand you also create drama by denying the user's view.
Ando : My architecture acts as a conductor between man and nature, which is known in Japanese as Shakkei. Buildings always deny and defy nature. However such a denial can lead to a rebirth a reformation or paradoxical way of life. To achieve sculptural integrity, denial is part of the normal process of aesthetic judgement. My architecture is quite restrictive and I try to create freedom through confinement. Dramatic lighting for instance is very important, buildings can be animated with washes of borrowed light.

GC : Reducing the amount of doors and windows, eaves and roofs, you deliberately eliminate prosaic detailing. Entrances are very low profile, interruption and clutter along surfaces are kept to a minimum.
Ando : I find long uninterrupted walls very tranquil especially in contrast to rolling landscape. Instead of separate doors and windows I often employ large sliding patio doors.

GC : Most architects aspire to become form makers. However rather than a modeller you appear to carve your buildings like caves out of the ground.
Ando : Mainstream architecture is normally an addifive process like modelling but I take things away and in this respect I am a carver.

GC : Lightness is a popular preoccupation for many contemporary architects. Have you been tempted to make your buildings out of more light weight materials?
Ando : There are some essentials to be le-amt from all new trends in design. Lightness does not necessarily come from the use of light materials, rather it comes from the strength of the architect's intentions. Many of my contemporaries are unfortunately led by post-modern commercial interest. not so much the fault of the architect but the demands of the client who wishes to make the front pages of the journals. Recent trends to entertain the client result in commercial buildings which have no concern for human beings in society. There is a conflict between architecture as a physical tool and human psychology. Houses are for people to live in but they should also be 50% spiritual.

GC : You now have an extensive portfolio, but which of your buildings are your favourite?
Ando : Among my current favourites are the Oyamazaki Museum, the UNESCO Chapel and the Fabrica United Colours Research centre. Surprisingly these are all circular yet contextual volumes which complement older existing buildings producing a tension between old and new. In order not to impose on the existing buildings, the Fabrica at Treviso and Oyamazaki are largely subterranean extensions and the Unesco chapel in Paris is to be found in a rear location next to the Noguchi garden. The Oyamazaki Museum is in a prominent position in the mountains south of Kyoto where it contrasts with a Tudor - Alpine villa. The Asahi collection includes a Monet "Waterlilies and 20th century ceramics including Bemard Leach and Hamada.

GC : What effect do you think last year's earthquake will have on architecture?
Ando: I do not expect it will have much effect on Japanese architects. In urban life you are always living next to danger.

GC : You have worked with a number of important artists such as Isamu Noguchi, Anthony Caro and Susumu Shingu. Do you find this a rewarding experience
Ando : I have also worked on an installation with the clothes designer Issey Miyaki and I enjoy the challenge of such a partnership. True collaboration is only possible if there is no hierarchy between artist and architect. Without equal status and ability they will not be able to freely express themselves.

Art & Architecture Journal No 46 March 1997


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