Born in Osaka, Tadao Ando is a self-taught architect. He established Tadao Ando Architect & Associates in 1969. His representative works include the Row House in Sumiyoshi, for which he was awarded the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ) Prize in 1979, the Church of the Light, and most recently, the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, among many others. A distinguished architect with numerous accolades, he is also well known for his work as a professor. We spoke to him about his power to keep taking on new challenges and his hopes for the future.
Architect Tadao Ando
There is beauty in your architecture that captivates people. What is “beauty” for you, and what encounters have you experienced that came to develop your sensibility?
When I’m working on site, I don’t even have a moment to think about anything profound or refined—nothing is on my mind except to keep moving forward. “Beauty” is a loaded word. It’s not all about how beautiful or interesting something is to the eye. The important thing, I believe, is actually in the part that’s not visible, like whether or not the work holds “the power of the space to speak to the heart of the viewer.”
I don’t know about sensibility, but what shaped my approach to “expression” most of all was my encounter with Gutai Art Association in my twenties. They urged artists not to imitate others, to be free from preconceived ideas, and their philosophy had a significant influence on me. I learnt not so much about “beauty” but about something more fundamental, “the nature of creation,” from their leadership.
What project are you working on currently? Could you share your secret to living in the “now” and always taking on new challenges?
I’m working on the “Children’s Book Forest” project that started out in Nakanoshima, Osaka, in July 2020. Another site opened in Tono, Iwate in July 2021. This July, the third one opened in Kobe, Hyogo. All three share the same concept: to make a space where children can wander around freely to discover books and enjoy them. Children are the stars there.
The other day, when I visited the “Book Forest” in Osaka, children were running around in and outside the building, full of energy and all smiles. It’s the happiest moment for me when I see that the completed buildings are loved by the people and have become a vibrant, living part of the city. That’s when I think, “I’m glad we made this.”
I began this project as a way to give back to the society that brought me up. I don’t know how far I can go, but I’d like to keep working on this as long as I’m active as an architect.
In the end, the reason I can keep challenging myself like this is because I’m running with my own feet, following my own route towards a goal that I determined myself. As long as it’s my own choice and by my own responsibility, I can overcome whatever difficulties that may arise on the way. That means deviating from the track that society has laid out, so I always have to be wide awake and never let my guard down. I think the crucial thing is to maintain this “tension,” this sense of being on edge. For that, we need strength both in the mind, the heart, and the body. I also make sure I get some exercise and reading every day in order to feed my strength.
“Children’s Book Forest”
As an architect, what’s the one thing you would most like to leave behind for the future?
I’m a Japanese person who grew up in Japan, so I do hope the cultures and sensibilities that derive from nature characteristic to Japan will be preserved. I think it’s meaningful to pass on the Japanese view of nature to posterity not just for the sake of the future of Japan, but for contemplating tomorrow’s world. After all, human beings are a part of nature, too.
As for how I envision the role of the architect in the future, it’s difficult to predict the future of the world or of architecture in this day and age, when things are in turmoil. What’s needed at such a time is a creator who thinks deeply about the fundamental origin of architecture, about the nature of architecture and what purpose it serves.
Could you share a message for our readers?
It doesn’t matter what age you are—if you are still looking towards the future with a goal in mind, even in your seventies or eighties, your days will be as fresh and invigorating as youth. That’s how the American poet Samuel Ullman wrote about “Youth.” I intend to live my “youth” until I’m a hundred years old. In spirit, I’m a “green apple” that always stays green and never grows ripe. I suppose Gen de Art is a magazine that’s picked up by people who’d sympathise with such words? Dear readers, I hope you’ll live out your lives to your heart’s content, whatever life you envision for yourselves! The bright, shining light of your lives, the lives of each and every one of you, is the light of hope for the world of tomorrow!
Bourse de Commerce
Paris, France, 2021
Courtesy Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection.
© Tadao Ando Architect & Associates,
NeM / Niney et Marca Architectes,
Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier.
Photo/Philippe Guignard Air Images
From Gen de Art Issue 11