Designboom with Tadao Ando
Japanese architect Tadao Ando will be receiving the Andrée Putman Lifetime Achievement award presented at the Créateurs Design Awards ceremony on January 21st, 2023 in Shangri-La Paris, France. A self-taught architect known for his use of natural light and forms of landscape and sparseness, Ando has engineered over 300 architectural designs including public buildings, religious structures, and museums. His approach to architecture touches upon coresidence, the contemporary, and the essence of the place, and it is underlined in many of his designs including his work for the Bourse de Commerce in Paris and the Hill of the Buddha near Sapporo in Japan.
He notes France’s cultural legacy when it comes to pursuing ideas ‘beyond the boundary of an era’, as he puts it, citing the Eiffel Tower and the Centre Pompidou as examples. ‘I was able to sense its manifestation in the coexistence of the tradition and the modern. Culture will remain the heart of France as long as one lives in pursuit of freedom: that is the message I wish to reach the new generations. It is a great honor to receive this award from Créateurs Design Association,’ says Ando.
designboom interviewed the renowned architect prior to receiving the award to talk about what informs his design process and his insight on the emergence of artificial intelligence in the sphere of architecture. Concerning the latter, Ando conveys his excitement about the new technologies and how useful they are in modern times, yet a tinge of concern still worries the architect about the future of architecture created solely through data. For designboom, Tadao Ando reveals his viewpoints on the current architectural climate, the divergence of material and immaterial, and the places he would love to revisit.
image courtesy of The Créateurs Design Awards | header image courtesy of Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, NeM / Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre – Antoine Gatier, & photo by Philippe Guignard Air Images
Interview with Tadao Ando
designboom (DB): How can architecture have a social role and bring us together?
Tadao Ando (TA): Architecture on its own is merely a box, but it can become a vessel through which communities can engage and come together. Naoshima in the Seto inland sea of Japan was a remote island with a barren landscape devastated by the mining industry. Since 1987, I have designed nearly a dozen architecture in Naoshima. It has now grown into a major destination for art and culture, attracting visitors from around the world.
Yet, the more significant outcome was the revitalization of the existing communities. The influx of cultural activities and art installations let the residents regain their pride in the island. Today Naoshima is an island where art, nature, and people come together and engage in cultural activities that further lend the place the power to grow.
DB: You are a mainly self-taught architect. Do you believe design education today is very abstract and should be verified more empirically? Or is it too limited because of practicability and planning restrictions and should be more conceptual?
TA: I believe all students should go outside more and travel to see buildings around the world. Living experience nurtures inspiration and creativity.
DB: How do you see the new trend of artificial intelligence entering architecture planning?
TA: While I am excited about new technologies and believe they are useful in many cases, I am concerned about a future where architecture is created solely through the selective sorting of past data.
In addition to the functionality, economy, and technology that make up a predetermined harmony in a building, an architect’s intervention brings a bit vague and contradictory odds with reality. It is these odds that make architecture unique and legitimize architects as a profession. The physical experience, embodied memory, and bodily senses of an architect are more reliable than the vast accumulation of data or its processing speed in a computer.
images courtesy of Tadao Ando Architect & Associates | photo by Kinji Kanno
DB: Visible forms and invisible space are powerful elements in your projects. Is this something that is easily perceived within the disturbing layers of complexity?
TA: Architecture to me has both abstractness and representation. Adherence to fundamental geometry and labyrinthian articulation is how I aspire toward ideal architectural expression.
DB: The material (walls) meets the immaterial (light), openness, and closure. Do you perceive these as strong contrasts, or are they gradually merging in your work? Can you illustrate any examples for our readers?
TA: They both inform a space in architecture. Light gives objects existence and connects space and form. The Pantheon in Rome is composed of a 43-meter diameter dome atop a cylinder of the same dimension. A light is invited through the 8-meter oculus. The moment the structure inside is illuminated, an architectural space manifests. Such a vision of space does not exist in nature. It is this power of architecture that moves me.
DB: The past and the present are in constant dialogue. You once said that there is no new without the old. Please elaborate on the impossibility of ‘creation from nothing.’
TA: In every project, there is always a client and site. Every site has its unique climate and cultural background. Architecture cannot come from a vacuum because it is informed by and a result of what is around it.
DB: Are there essential differences between new construction and renovation in terms of the attitude toward each type of work?
TA: No. Work must consider the context regardless of whether it is new construction or renovation. Although renovation may be more difficult, existing buildings are part of the site context in design.
image courtesy of Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, NeM / Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre – Antoine Gatier. | photo by Patrick Tourneboeuf
DB: In another interview, you said architecture should be learned through concepts and physical senses, and that it is extremely important to experience the architectural heritage left behind by our predecessors. What is still on your must-experience list to view?
TA: I would love to revisit the Pantheon in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens.
DB: Please name a few buildings that should be on the ‘travel list’ of young and upcoming, but also established architects.
TA: Notre dame du Haut, Pantheon.
DB: How do you embrace the transformation of your buildings (people moving in and maybe changing a few formal and functional aspects)?
TA: I have been fortunate enough to work with many of my clients on extending and renovating the houses I designed. The Koshino house in Hyogo has undergone multiple constructions, adding a gallery, renovating the living space, and eventually becoming a gallery. Even my studio is a result of several extensions that began with the first house I designed. As the resident changes and mature, so must the architecture grow and adapt.
image courtesy of Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, NeM / Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre – Antoine Gatier. | photo by Yuji ONO