Ando, the 2002 AIA Gold Medal winner,
talks about the craft, beauty and the culture of architecture
Photograph © Kinji Kanno
Last month Architectural Record
visited Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA, in his office in Osaka, Japan,
and talked with him about the nature of architecture and creativity,
and his view of architecture within a changing global landscape.
Record: How do you approach the problem of creating
You cannot simply put something new into a place. You
have to absorb what you see around you, what exists on the
land, and then use that knowledge along with contemporary
thinking to interpret what you see.
What do you respond to from your own tradition that has some
meaning for you and your work at this point in your life?
you look at Japanese traditional architecture, you have to
look at Japanese culture and its relationship with nature.
You can actually live in a harmonious, close contact with
naturethis very unique to Japan. Japanese traditional
architecture is created based on these conditions. This is
the reason you have a very high degree of connection between
the outside and inside in architecture.
You have taken the Modernist idiom for your architecture and
made it your own. How do you see this language evolving?
logic of Modernism, you could say, is born from functionalism
as we know it, but thats only the beginning of what
Modernism is all about. Modernist architecture also has to
deal with people. And people always relate to the spirit of
the place, or to the spirit of the time. Without this spirit,
Modernist architecture cannot fully exist. Since there is
often a mismatch between the logic and the spirit of Modernism,
I use architecture to reconcile the two.
There are several themes in your work that are striking. For
example, you conceive of space as a dark, heavy, and powerful
If you give people nothingness, they can ponder what can be
achieved from that nothingness.
Yet another theme in your work is the element of surprise.
You take a path, which makes a turn, and you discover something
I design buildings, I think of the overall composition, much
as the parts of a body would fit together. On top of that,
I think about how people will approach the building and experience
are constantly drawing. How has the computer modified your
When I draw something, the brain and the hands work together.
My hand is the extension of the thinking processthe
creative process. The computer offers another kind of creativity.
You cannot ignore the creativity that computer technology
can bring. But you need to be able to move between those two
not fashionable to talk about beauty, but in looking at your
buildings, I think about it. What is the role of beauty in
is a role and function for beauty in our time. In Japan it
may be translated into the concept of Uskuji, which also means
a beautiful life, that is, how a person liveshis
or her inner life. Its something beyond appearance,
or what only meets the eye. You cant really say what
is beautiful about a place, but the image of the place will
remain vividly with you. People tend not to use this word
beauty because its not intellectualbut there has
to be an overlap between beauty and intellect.
purposefully introduce intuitive, internal, or illogical elements
into your work. These are very human attributes. Is this a
way of understanding and connecting to people?
absolutely right. Its a way of relating the work to
How does your architecture come to terms with the immense
speed of change going on in the world now? For example, you
designed the Komyo-ji Temple in Saijo, Ehime, out of wood,
which suggests impermanence. It seems like the Ise Shrine
in Nara, which is rebuilt every 20 years.
speed of change makes you wonder what will become of architecture.
In the West there has always been the attempt to try make
the religious building, whether its a Medieval or Renaissance
church, an eternal object for the celebration of God. The
material chosen, such as stone, brick, or concrete, is meant
to eternally preserve what is inside. But in Japan, theres
nothing like that, since the temple is made of wood. The divine
spirit inside the building is eternal, so the enclosure doesnt
have to be. Japanese architecture, therefore, allows you the
freedom to express this concept. Its a mistake to adhere
to the stylistic development of religious architecture of
the past and try to imitate it.
about the role of craft in your work?
level of detail and craft is something thats inscribed
within the original design concept. And so when I begin to
draw, I know what kind of detailing I want the building to
What do you see as the role of architecture in the world?
have to realize that the "age of discovery" has
brought with it a disruption of the environment. Now architects
are facing the "age of responsibility." When you
design and build something, you have to consider what you
are taking away from the earth or the environment in order
to make something new. At the same time, I would add that
the American people have a lot of courage. This is embedded
within the American spirit, the "frontier spirit."
You always want to try to make something new, and, of course,
America is the world leader in economics today. I hope America
can also be the cultural leader of the world, and use this
frontier spirit to lead and show others that we need courage
to go places where we have not gone before.
If you look at the 1950s, you will notice
that the modern worlds most representative architecture
was created in the United States at that timesuch as
the Seagram Building. And even before that, with the Chrysler
Building and Rockefeller Center, you can see that American
society was interested in creating a culture of the future.
But now, more and more, its society is concerned with economy
and finance. I hope that America as a whole, and especially
its architects, will become more seriously involved in producing
a new architectural culture that would bring the nation to
the apexwhere it has stood beforeand lead the