'I aim to be free from any associations to create independent architecture,' says Tadao Ando

Osaka – Born in 1941, Tadao Ando founded his architectural firm, Tadao Ando Architect & Associates in his hometown of Osaka, in 1969. Completely self-taught, Ando’s approach to architecture stems from his engagement with nature, linking international Modernism to Japanese traditional aesthetics. In his designs, his renowned smooth concrete structures complement his sensibility to space and light, harmonising one another as if the light itself dances within the renowned concrete forms. In 1995, Tadao Ando was awarded Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize for accomplishing an extraordinary body of architectural work both in Japan and internationally.

How do you come to your office each day?
I live just around the corner, so I walk each day.

How many staff do you have?
Currently there are 20 people on staff. I have never employed more than 30 people, because that is the maximum number of people I can communicate with and whose work I can oversee properly.

How important is the process of making architectural models in designing architecture?
Our models for residential houses and small-scale projects are larger in scale. We make more minute details than bigger architectural projects, due to houses and smaller projects being closer to human scale. People can actually touch and see details more closely, so we want to work where nothing can be left unnoticed. The physical process of using our hands and crafting models from scratch is immensely important, I don’t deny that.

Usually our younger staff and students working part-time make our wooden models. With modern technology and computers, we can easily manipulate the finer details of an outside façade. However, crafting architectural models of walls using your own hands and experimenting back and forth when you are not satisfied with it, is an integral process at the core of architectural model making. These processes are creative in a true sense, although some may say obsolete.

You work extensively overseas. What difference do you feel when you design architecture outside Japan?
Working on architecture means first and foremost realising the passion of a client. But it also incorporates other issues such as the location where it will be built, including climate, technical and financial issues, and so on.

If the location changes, the surrounding scenery and other environments will change, further influencing how you will work and eventually changing the outcome of the final architecture. When I work outside of Japan, every process of my work with architecture will change. Therefore I do wish to make use of those differences and incorporate them into the creation, to make a truly unique design for each location.

I intentionally aim to be free from any associations in order to create independent architecture not linked to any specific nation

What do you think makes Japanese creations stand out from others?
The fact that Japan is a country of islands amongst other foreign nations has certainly nurtured the Japanese character, whether that is a good thing or not. Japanese architecture is probably similar. However, now that we all have the same technologies across the world, these differences may be slowly changing. 

Do you in any way feel Japanese when you design?
No. I try not to think in too much of a Japanese way, as I intentionally aim to be free from any associations in order to create independent architecture not linked to any specific nation. 

Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
I can sometimes get inspiration for a space from a single phrase in a sentence. Sometimes from a client’s personal character, my image of a space for them becomes deeper. Ideas come from various sources.

Meanwhile, works such as Church on the Water, or Chichu Art Museum probably have their roots in my physical encounters and are further enlightened from the small villages in other countries that I visited while I was still in my early 20s. In the end, all the works that are produced by one man will inevitably be linked somewhere.

If you were to live outside of Japan, where would that be?
My day starts with work and ends with work. So I don’t think questioning where I would live makes much sense. I am happy being based in Osaka and travelling around the world.


This piece was originally featured in Where They Create: Japan. You can purchase a copy here.

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