Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando: “There is no such thing as creation from nothing”

Short Profile

Name: Tadao Ando
DOB: 13 September 1941
Place of birth: Minato Ward, Osaka, Japan
Occupation: Architect

Mr. Ando, in your opinion as one of architecture’s contemporary luminaries, what makes a building unforgettable?

Each work has its conditions and circumstances. However, the other day I visited the Shizutani School in Okayama, Japan. For me, this architecture is one of the great source images of a school or a place where people gather. I have visited this school multiple times, and I gain some sort of inspiration on each visit. It is one of the architectures that stays eternally in my heart.

You often speak about the importance of architecture that can bring us together to create a kind of dialogue. In that respect, would you consider architecture to be art? And are you, the architect, an artist?

Architecture has a rational function that should live in people's real lives. Therefore, I do not consider architecture as art, nor do I consider architects to be artists. However, I do have a strong desire to improve the purity of my expression and put a strong message into my architecture so that I can call it art!

“I always believed that the wall is an extremely important element to expose light. On the wall, the locus of breathing light is drawn. This imbues life into architecture.”

What do you mean by the purity of your expression?

It is the strength of the narrative which architecture emits which transcends its function. One of the best examples is Le Corbusier's Notre-Dame du Haut.

The architect Ma Yansong spoke similarly about architecture’s transcendence — he actually referenced your Chapel on the Water as an example of pure architectural poetry.

Architecture sometimes has the power to appeal to the human mind and bring about a moment of self-reflection. This power comes not from visible forms but an invisible void or space. This void does not mean a neutral "zero" space. It is like a white canvas that reflects the changes of nature such as light and wind.

The use of light has long been one of your more fundamental architectural elements, right?

Yes, light is a universal theme. The conquest for light is one of the themes of my architecture that exists consistently and in a different dimension from those contexts. For me, spatial typology is defined only by the volume and orientation of light. I always believed that the wall is an extremely important element to expose light. On the wall, the locus of breathing light is drawn. This imbues life into architecture.

Would you say that the existence of contrasting the elements — light and dark, form and void, old and new — is also an essential part of imbuing a space with life?

Nature and artificial, entirety and piece, universality and uniqueness, the past and the present. Architects are tormented by the constant conflict of these dualistic propositions! The deeper and more intense the tension is, the more dynamic the creation becomes. That is why architects must continue thinking.

And that tension is important for your creative process?

I think there is absolutely no answer to the conflicts between opposing binaries. Architecture is built through the accumulation of one's own choices, made entirely on one's responsibility. For me, the time spent struggling in this tension is what creation is all about.

Is it also necessary to have harmony between these different elements?

Well, every place has its unique context and character. The Pantheon in Rome is, for me, an example of perfect harmony in architecture… The purest geometric forms and the natural light imbues the space with life. I believe it is the ultimate harmony between nature and architecture. The Pompidou Center in Paris comes to mind as an example of harmony between old and new. For a new architecture, it is natural to begin by constructing a dialogue with the existing environment. The place where it will be built has its history accumulated by its predecessors. I believe that there is no such thing as a creation from nothing. However, this dialogue does not necessarily have the purpose of creating harmony. I endeavor to accept the existing context but at the same time, I am interested in building challenging dialogues by inserting a foreign object to cause friction which forms a new context.

Like your recent restoration and redesign of the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, in which a striking cylindrical concrete wall is set against the backdrop of the original architecture and a 19th Century mural.

Yes, in the case of renovation, the existing building itself becomes the context of the place. For me, there is no essential difference between new construction and renovation in terms of the attitude toward each type of work. With the Bourse de Commerce, the urban culture is nurtured through layers of history, where the old and the new collide and coexist. The 18th century wall and the 21st century walls are a good example of this. The existing interior walls by Henri Blondel and the curved architectural concrete embody the pride of French construction techniques. The internal passage between these old and new walls symbolizes the spirit of this architecture. I think it is important to have harmony with a certain intensity, which can sometimes strike the human heart.

“Each place has its unique form of architecture nurtured through its distinct context. I think this realization has formed the foundation of my architectural career.”

When was the first time that architecture struck your heart with that kind of intensity?

As a youth, around 24 years old, I traveled alone around the world and learned that each place has its richness and that the earth is one. I was able to understand that each place has its unique form of architecture nurtured through its distinct context. I think this realization has formed the foundation of my architectural career.

Is that why you often encourage young architecture students to travel and experience historical architecture firsthand?

Architecture should be learned through concepts and physical senses, so it is extremely important to experience the architectural heritage left behind by our predecessors. Moreover, traveling nurtures our inner being. I would always recommend traveling when as young as possible. Although, the inconvenience and the risk I had to take at the time had made traveling much more spiritually rich and exciting compared to that of now!

It’s interesting to think that one day, architecture you have created will be part of this heritage.

I personally want to create architecture that is "eternal" in the sense that even if the building itself is weathered and decayed, its scenery and space will live on in the hearts of the people forever.

And do you feel that you’ve achieved that goal?

I can only say that the life of architecture does not end when its construction is completed. It continues to grow and be nurtured after it is built. All the works of architecture I have designed are still in the process of growing — so I will need another 50 years to answer your question.