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Chapter 3. Architectural styles of Tadao Ando


 Ando has three unique architectural languages: Concrete, Geometry, and Representation. His architecture possesses power and becomes radiant only when these three elements come together. Although these elements are affected by Ando’s past experiences, they definitely have a deep connection to Japanese traditional architecture. Chapter 3 describes how the three elements contain Japanese traditional ideas and aesthetics and how they are expressed in Ando’s architecture.

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 Tadao Ando’s ideas present not only in the architectural shapes and structures he designs but also in his material selection. Ando is well known as an architect who uses reinforced concrete both for the inner skin as well as the outer skin of his buildings. The reason why Ando started using concrete is because it is considered the best material to express the simplicity of Japanese architecture and it has the advantage of being able to freely create a large space with a low construction cost. The general perception of concrete is that it is rough and artificial, and lacks warmth, something which seems at odds with Japanese architectural philosophy. However, Ando’s thoughts on this matter differ. He stated “The concrete I employ does not have plastic rigidity or weight…The concrete resembles wood in sukiya architecture in its correctness, and heightens the dignity and density of the interior spaces.” He also believes that “if the light is reflected off the concrete, the concrete can be a warm material that solidly supports the life of the inhabitants.”1 Ando tried to replicate the warm atmosphere that comes from light touching wood, common in Japanese architecture. Above all, since Ando is convinced that the soft atmosphere of spaces comes from the texture of the material, he was devoted to creating his own concrete mix, emphasizing homogeneity. As a result, in each of Ando’s works, concrete plays a role as a piece of delicate and emotional architectural language which allows people to experience the warm, soft and comfortable atmosphere of the space that the concrete helps to express.

 Structures built using only concrete shows the intrinsic colour and texture of the material without any decorative elements. According to the book Tadao Ando written by Masao Furuyama, the concrete wall that Ando creates contains the ‘scarcity’ that makes up Japanese aesthetics.2 The aesthetics of scarcity in Ando’s concrete can be viewed as a sheet of paper that has nothing drawn on it. In other words, even though emptiness is meaningful in itself, further meaning can be added by entering something into it. Thus, in Ando’s architecture, space built with concrete is completed by injecting nature, and the simplicity of concrete can naturally underscore the presence of nature in space. In consequence, Ando’s concrete is seen as the most effective choice of material for showing harmony with nature, especially considering that nature is one of the fundamental pillars in Japanese culture.


Photo 3-1. The warm atmosphere of Ando’s concrete. Kidosaki House. Tokyo. Japan



 In Ando’s works, natural elements such as water, light and wind are always actively involved. However, nature as created in his architecture is made abstract in its form, through geometry, rather than being nature as it is. “Ando said that he has changed the meaning of nature through architecture. He hoped that through this, human beings would be able to discover a new relationship with nature.”3 Nature as abstracted by Ando’s geometry produces a different atmosphere from the original landscape. His tightly controlled geometry acts as a frame, capturing nature as a picture. In this way, Ando intends to allow for deep meditation by people coming into the building. This method is obviously similar to shakkei. The term shakkei means ‘the borrowed landscape method of gardening’ and also means that nature is preserved in a designated space, like a living landscape painting. In the past, shakkei was achieved through geometry, because it was believed that rough and chaotic nature can only be purified through geometric forms. Ando’s use of geometry and traditional methods of shakkei once again highlights the significance of nature in Japanese history and culture. As an example of the use of geometry in Ando’s architecture, even though the geometric form can be seen in most of his architecture, the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum on Naoshima Island, Japan, is best known for the neat connection between geometry and nature. The Naoshima Museum is a huge geometric building embedded in the ground. By burying a geometric space on the hill, nature and architecture can be combined allowing nature and architecture to be experienced simultaneously. “Through the holes, shaped like ellipses and rectangles, nature could be capture and these geometric holes let the light, rain and wind came into the building. In this structure, visitors can experience the chaotic nature becomes abstract thanks to the presence of geometry and verticality, with the whole blending together to generate a feeling of transcendence.”4


Photo 3-2 (Left). Shakkei in Japanese garden.

Photo 3-3 (Right). Geometry and nature. Benetton Research Center by Tadao Ando. Treviso. Italy



 Representation means considering all the cultural, historical, climatic, topographical, and urban characteristics of a site. Ando always underscores the importance of the site and its background. “Architecture is ultimately a question of how one responds to these demands made by the land.”5 He aims to preserve and site and its natural elements, as opposed to ignoring or even destroying it. He is an architect who seeks to preserve the characteristics and essence of the site and when designing, he looks at the site as a whole rather than just designing how the building would fit into it. His way of preserving the characteristics of the place is based, once again, on Japanese traditional philosophy. “The traditional culture of Japan cannot be discussed apart from the natural beauty and the geographic and topographic characteristics of the country.”6 It is no exaggeration to say that Japan’s overall idea the special character of a place and of deep connections to nature has greatly contributed to Ando’s thought process. His thoughts on this matter can be illustrated with two examples. First of all, in Rokko Housing 1 in Tokyo, Japan, Ando explained about his first visit to the land where the complex would be built. “On my first visit to the site, I found that the 60-degree slope afforded a wonderful view of Osaka Bay, so I wanted to make full use of the special character of that place.” The idea for Rokko Housing 1 emerged from the geographical features of the site. “Ando decided to keep the building height low, to have the structure hug the slope, and to integrate the architecture with the lush surrounding greenery.”7 This approach allows individual units to each have a terrace on the roof and a view of the sea. In the case of Time’s I, a museum in Kyoto, Japan, the architect created a three-dimensional system focusing on the nearby Takase River that runs beside the structure. The idea behind Time’s I was to give new life to the relationship that residents had with the water that is dear to citizens of Kyoto. The intimate relationship between the river and the architecture was intended to make people more aware of the city’s history and cultural traditions.


Photo 3-4. The process of building Rokko Housing 1 on the slope



 Ando Tadao positively accepted and expressed the aesthetic of sukiya in his works. The purpose of this study was to identify the characteristics of Japanese traditional architecture, the meaning of architectural elements and expressions used in the past, and these traditional aspects as expressed by Tadao Ando. The study of how sukiya, a representative form of Japanese architectural aesthetics, is reinterpreted and valued in Ando’s architecture has value in highlighting the directions currently being taken with respect to modernization and tradition. The results of the study are as follows.

 First, Ando tried to poetically express a connection to nature, a fundamental aspect of Japanese traditional architecture. In Ando’s works, the aim was to pursue the essence of a structure by closely analyzing the relationship between humans and nature, and interpreting it through sukiya-based characteristics. Ando saw that natural elements such as light and wind have greater significance when they are captured from the external world, namely, on the inside of one of his structures. Nature in Ando’s architecture allows us to discover new relationships between man and nature. His structures allow for deep internal reflection and meditation. His inheriting of tradition has significant meaning in terms of recovering the characteristics of Japan’s traditional spaces, whose connections with nature have become lost in today’s modern world.

 Second, Ando has incorporated various architectural features from Japanese traditional architecture into his own designs. Opening, Emptiness, Mindfulness and Indirect paths are features that are commonly found in sukiya-style architecture. While these features are important in themselves, they are once again expressed and reinterpreted in Ando’s modern structures, giving different impressions, having greater impacts on visitors, and exerting greater power. The openings that aim to get people to communicate with nature, the emptiness that does not give specific and simple meaning to space, the indirect paths that lead visitors to dramatic meeting with subsequent spaces, and the mindfulness through nature are all characteristics of traditional architecture that are reinterpreted in Ando’s architecture. His use of elements of Japanese architecture reminds people in modern society of the true meaning of architecture.

 Third, Ando’s architectural languages, namely concrete, abstraction with geometry, and representation have made great contributions to an effective and unique reinterpretation of the Japanese aesthetic sense. As a first example, Ando’s use of concrete overcomes typical perceptions of concrete being rough and cold. His use of colour and texture help to make is suitable for conveying softness and warmth, and a connection with nature. For the second example, Ando’s architecture basically consists of strict geometric forms such as ellipses, squares, circles, and grids, which are original forms of nature. At the same time, geometric forms are used to cut out topography and landscape and capture nature in space. Therefore, people can feel that landscape is melting in geometry when they enter the space and finally experience nature and geometry are united. Lastly, the architecture of Ando is the result of the question of how to combine the past and present of space and continue the background of the site. Ando respects the memory of the site and its scenery and used unique features of each space as a creative idea for his architecture. Overall, three architectural languages of Ando described above can be understood as his unique methods to accept and optimally express Japanese aesthetics rather than merely his architectural features.

 In conclusion, Ando states the importance of harmony with the environment in the sukiya philosophy. His works not only reanalyze traditional Japanese architecture but offer a critique of modern society and culture. The sukiya aesthetics that appear in Ando’s architecture has many implications regarding traditional culture and its place in the modern world.

1 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 63.

2 Masao, F. (1993). Tadao Ando. London: Artemis.

3 Seung-Hae, K. (2014). A Study on the Substance, Human and Thinking of Space in Architectural Work of Ando Tadao. Handong University. p. 87.

4 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 83.

5 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 111.

6 Francesco, D. (1995). Tadao Ando: Complete Works. London: Phaidon. p. 464.

7 Francesco, D. (1995). Tadao Ando: Complete Works. London: Phaidon. p. 464.

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