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Talk: Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Centerd and I managed to sneak into an Ando talk at Berkeley, tiptoeing in through the sidedoor and sitting on the floor when the lights went out because all seats were gone over an hour before the talk started. I am thankful for the location of the Men's Room at Dwinelle Hall; I might not have noticed the unguarded entrance otherwise (easy to spot, given that ten-or-so people were already waiting there to sneak in).

photo: Ando's Aomori Contemporary Art Center. Photo by kwc

I really enjoy Tadao Ando's work. I'm not a fan of his most noted signature element -- concrete -- but I love the simplicity of his forms and the ways in which his buildings play with light. This talk gave a fuller survey of some of his works over the past decades, and also gave a lot of insight into his amusingly persistent mentality that guides his projects.

My notes are in the extended entry. There are a lot of large photos of his works that I've culled of the Internet to go with some of the talk notes, so the notes may load very slowly. It took a little longer than normal to put these notes together, but it was worth it, as I now have my own mini-Ando book to browse through and reflect upon.

standing in back entrace hallway, hard to hear

Influences: Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson

He showed two sketches, one by Kahn and one by Le Corbusier, of the Pantheon. He noted that both acknowledged the classical order. Kahn used color to impose something strong. Le Corbusier's showed a strong ambition to create a new classical order.

managed to sneak into talk here

Philip Johnson: Look at history, think forward

Talked about his 10 month journey across Asia, Europe, and Africa, taking the Trans-Siberian railway, ending up in Finland, then down into Africa and travelling by ship. He looked at the horizon for the first time.

He visited the Pantheon for the first time and realized that light is the life-giver of a space. He showed a photo of the circular light coming through the Pantheon ceiling.

He also made his pilgrammage to the Pantheon, but instead of being inspired, he mostly thought about the distance he travelled to see it. Instead of going on a trip to see something, he views travelling as a "trip to think about something."

Japanese culture: pleasant and friendly relationship with nature. Ando wants to create buildings that are in harmony with the environment.

Azuma House

He showed one of his first projects, which was a small, 2-story house. He divided the space in half, with a courtyard in the center. The bedrooms were upstairs in separate halves, with the stairway leading to them going through the courtyard. This meant that if you had to go to the bathroom at night, you had to go outside through the courtyard. He acknowledged, as his critics pointed out, that this was inconvenient.

Koshino house

High concrete wall that caught the outside light. Also had a curved room with sunlight coming down at the edge, casting circular patterns on the floor.

Church on the Water

Church on the Water - photo by ellen's attic Church on the Water - photo by ellen's attic Church on the Water - photo by ellen's attic

photos by ellen's attic - click for more Church on the Water photos

In addition to light, water is another natural element he likes to work with. He showed his Church on the water, which a nave with a backwall that is entirely of glass and looks out on a cross in a pond, with trees behind. This has the effect of making the wall look like a painting/photo/movie.

Church of Light

Church of Light, by stella boyland Church of Light, photo by smine

photo left by stella boyland, photo right by smine - click for originals

Light so powerful it unites. The backwall of the nave has a cross window cut into it, which casts a cross of light down the aisle. Ando wanted to take away the glass to allow in wind, creating tension, but the cliented wanted comfort and vetoed that idea.

Wants to explore the meaning of nature/light/water (the heart of).

The Times

Kyoto. This building was the start of a recurring theme in Ando's talk, involving his persistence. Originally it was supposed to be a renovation, but Ando didn't think much of the building he was supposed to renovate. He admitted that he doesn't think about what the client wants. He does what he wants -- he wants to make it better. He thinks about how he can change the environment, change the block. Kyoto has shallow rivers, so he put in stairs down to the river. The client was worried about floods causing damage to the store merchandise, but Ando wanted the building to have as close a relationship with the water as possible. The final design has the building appear to be floating on a river, like a boat.

Ando - Times Building - photo by John Weiss

photo by John Weiss/johnw - click for original

After he finished the Times building, he started dreaming up designs for the Chinese restaurant behind it (without the owner's request or approval). He approached the restaurant owner, who was angry with him. After four years of approaching the owner, Ando got permission to redo that building, and thus was born the Times II, which further extended his design down the riverfront. Ando then pointed out the building behind the Chinese restaurant and showed us his designs for that building (apparently that owner is still too angry); Ando is still hoping.

From the very first day Ando wanted to create a riverfront, to change the environment, to create a public space, and he fought for it.

1/17/1995: Kobe quake

Safety and function are important architectural elements.

This segued into several Kobe-related projects, including Awajishima and a white blossom trees project.

He showed some photos of the 3.5km long Akashi Kaikyo Bridge near Kobe to segue into a section about Awajishima/Awaji Island. The bridge connects Kobe/Honshu to Shikoku via Awajishima.


Awajishima/Awaji Yumebutai

Ando showed pictures of a land quarry in Japan where they took earth to build the Kansai airport. Japan is obsessed with development, but it hurts Japan because of the small landsize.

Ando got commissioned to design a golf course for the land quarry -- he convinced the prefecture to buy some of the surrounding land (100 hectares) and turn it into a park. He showed pictures of how, starting in 1903, Kobe started a reclamation project to replant all of the trees chopped down in its mountains (used for fuel).

He started planting 3 million trees before construction even began; enlisted the help of children, etc... (Somewhere along the line the golf course idea got dropped.)

Ando - Shellcrete - by bakoko

photo by bakoko/ - click for more

Awaji Yumebutai, photo by andy in cube

photo by andy in cube - click for more

He also had the idea to use 1 million scallop shells to line a pool at the site. Had a little trouble when he discovered that restaurants imported the scallops without the shells, but people tracked down shells for him. In certain areas the shells form subtle lines that guide your eyes out towards the sea.

As a memorial to those who passed away in the quake he designed a memorial flower garden:

Ando - Awaji Yumebutai - by SkylineGTR Awaji Yumebutai, photo by andy in cube

photo left by SkylineGTR - click for more, photo right by andy in cube - click for more

There is a hotel on the site. They were worried that it would not be a popular place for people to stay. During the World Cup, though, David Beckham stayed at the hotel, and they haven't had any worries since. It taught Ando the power of celebrity.

Ando - Awaji Yumebutai - by SkylineGTR Awaji Yumebutai, photo by andy in cube

photo left by andy in cube - click for more. photo right by SkylineGTR - click for more

Rokko Housing

photo by Brandon Shigeta - click for more Rokko photos

This originally started off in 1979 as a project to build a housing development next to a steep hill (~60 degree incline), with the client wanting a retaining wall. Ando surveyed the site and decided that instead of building a retaining wall, he wanted to build directly on the slope of the hill. The client liked the idea because the hill was otherwise worthless.

Early in the development people were skeptical that they would be able to successfully complete the project; once the project neared, though, people began to quickly buy up units and they sold out. Even Philip Johnson had visited the development and viewed it skeptically.

Ando put up a slide of the completed development with box around the land adjacent to the building, noting that it was four times as much land there. He did another design and started building Rokko II there. His original design featured 18 flights of stairs; the client, of course, objected, and he amended the design by putting a funicular underneath the stairway. During the construction process they planted additional trees, and green space was intentionally left inbetween the Rokko I and II sites.

Ando then put up another slide showing Rokko I and II, and this time pointed towards the Kobe Steel dormitories that were behind the site. Without the owner's permission, Ando started doing a design for another building there, which he presented to the CEO. The CEO was angry and turned Ando's proposal down, but the president noted that the CEOs of the company change frequently, and he should hold onto his design.

As 'luck' would have it, the earthquake ruined the dormitories, and they needed to be able to rebuild there fairly quickly. They came back to Ando and asked him, "Do you still have that drawing?"

With Rokko I-III, Ando was still not satisfied. On the other side of Rokko I was an old hospital. Ando thought, "I should design a hospital, too." Instead of having to convince the owners of the hospital, though, this time the owners came to him and asked him to do a design (not that they had much choice for an architect, now that Ando had pretty much developed the entire area).

The hospital is due to be finished in 2010, which means that three decades of Ando's life have been involved in this project. Ando's moral of the story was that you have to keep knocking on doors.


aerial photo


One of the projects he did in Kobe that he is most proud of is the planting of 300,000 white blossom trees as a memorial to those who died. The 300,000th was planted by the Emperor and Empress.

He also supports projects to replant trees on some of the other 500 land quarry sites around Japan (1 million olive trees).

Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

Ando was recommended as an architect to the Pulitzer family to do the Pulitzer Foundation for the Ats in St. Louis. Originally it was supposed to be a renovation of a building there, but they ended up doing a completely new building there.

Ando had two amusing anecdotes about artists. The first involved Kelly and the hanging of the piece below. Ellsworth Kelly asked Ando to move the wall inwards a bit so that his Blue Black piece would be better framed. I'm not certain as to whether or not Ando complied with the request.

The second involves this piece by Richard Serra. Ando put up a photo of the sculpture with an outline of how large it was originally going to be, but noted that it kept getting bigger and bigger. Ando's advice was the "be careful" when working with artists.

World Trade Center site design

Wanted to do a 300m sphere garden (a large mound of grass rising out of the ground at the WTC site) instead of architecture. American, esp. NYC, acts as the center of the world. Time to reflect, react to environment. Wanted it to say, "we live on this world together." Mound is much like some tombs in Japan.


Western architecture is about walls.

Japanese architecture focuses on refining simple elements. His designs retain a sense of Japan, but use Western construction materials.

There is a sensuality to designing architecture that can't be designed using a computer. Hand drawings are very important in the design process.


I also build with other material (timber, etc...)

Uses concrete because it is the easiest material to find anywhere.

There are also many expressions possible with concrete. When he saw a photo of Kahn's [Salk Institute][salk], he couldn't believe that it was concerete; thought it was stone. Different expression from Le Corbusier's Ronchamp.

Kahn's Salk Institute (d's favorite building):


Corbusier's Ronchamp:


Concrete has a hostile sense to Japanese people. Had to bring a sense of softness, refinement. Challenges self to create own unique expression.

Many of his clients get attached to the concrete finish, want it in their designs. Ando tries to make them understand that it is about space, not concrete; light within the space and how the space receives the light.

Book of Tea, which was written to make Americans understand Japanese culture. Inspired Frank Lloyd Wright.

end of talk

Personal photos of Ando's buildings

Aomori Contemporary Art Center

In May of 2006 I visited the Aomori Contemporary Art Center. Here are some photos:

Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center

Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Center

Aomori Contemporary Art Center Photoset

Omotesando Hills - Tokyo (Omotesando/Aoyama)

Omotesando Hills is a shopping mall that features a continuously ascending ramp around a thin triangular perimeter with elements of trees, water, and people walking expressed both inside and out. You can read my thoughts on Omotesando Hills here.

Omotesando Hills - Ando

Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando

Omotesand Hills photos (34 photos)

Collezione - Tokyo (Omotesando/Aoyama)

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-10 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-09

Collezione is a retail area at the far end of Omotesando. More recently, Ando did the Omotesando Hills shopping mall. I've recorded my thoughts on Collezione here.

Collezione - Ando - Photoset (31 photos)

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-30 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-16 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-17 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-15 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-13 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-11

Art Institute of Chicago - Japanese collection

I visited the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 2006. Tadao Ando designed this room for Japanese exhibits:

Ando - Art Institute of Chicago-1

(I decided to leave my good camera equipment behind due to recent airlines security scares)

Comments (19)


do you know the owner and builders of the church on the water

me parece una arquitectura muy interesante de Tadao Ando.. soy uno de sus admiradores por la forma simple y minima con que diseņa los espacios que son altamente estimulantes para el alma y el espiritu

Jose Manuel:

Tadao Ando...el maestro...el creador de poesia bajo el sol, llamada arquitectura...con la sutileza de creear emociones con los minimos elementos de la forma, y capaz de transmitir sensaciones siniguales a traves de su plastika...gracias Maestro gracias por sus creaciones


This has a better picture of the garden memorial Tadao Ando designed!


I'm a young architect, can I have change like U?
( I... hope )

Joana silleman:

Meu favorito!!!

I like your article/post/whatever you want to call it! I really like Tadao Ando's design, so that's how I got here (google search.) It's sorta sad he didn't talk about the gallery he designed at the Art Institute of Chicago, because that's a beautiful space (you would like it--it's wood, not concrete!) And, yes, they did adapt the Pulitzer for Ellsworth Kelly's piece. If you're ever in the midwest, I suggest you check out one (or both) of these places.


por favor una pagina en espaņol...!!!


i like 2 ur buildings architecture student from sri lanka

I've used some of your comments on Tadao Ando on a picture of mine of the Time's Building in Flickr and have placed a reference back to your blog. Hope this is ok with you.


hey..i m an archtecture student from india really liked u r blog,found it very helpfull with a project i m doing on tadao ando...thanks for the great pictures


Hello, I'm an Interior Arch student from London. You've an awaresome blog. It helps loads with my research project. Thank you !! I'm impressed by Tadao Ando's works as well.


Ando is the master of light, space and spiritual impact...
the best!


FYI - You have the names of the Pantheon and Parthenon reversed.


@nathan: thanks!

karen yap:

Hi, Thanks a lot for your detailed information as well as the pictures of Tadao Ando's architecture. I'm gathering the information and the pictures which are required for my assignment.


hi sir hey..i m an archtecture student from india really liked u r blog,found it very helpfull with a project i m doing on tadao ando...thanks for the great pictures


Great "sneak" into an Ando lecture. What a wealth of info you heard. I'm wondering if you've heard / seen any recent updates on the Rokko IV project. Thanks

Such great and wonderful pictures!!!! Tadao Ando's works are really amazing and spectacular. He is such a genius artist.

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