Published  28/08/2003

Ando's progress

Ando's progress

A recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1995 and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal 2002, Tadao Ando’s works have been lauded by the architectural world. Yet he himself is entirely self-taught, with no architectural degree, or even training with a master architect. He started his career as a boxer, a sport whose discipline and rigour he has carried over into his architecture.

Meng Ching Kwah

Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1941, Ando spent his early years making wood models of ships and aeroplanes, and learnt the craft of making moulds from a local carpenter. In the 1960s, he started his self-directed course of architectural study by reading books about, and going to see the works of architects such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Kahn. He first visited temples, shrines, and tea houses in Kyoto and Nara before embarking on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe and the United States in around1965. It was at this time that he began to keep a detailed sketchbook, a habit he maintains to this day when travelling. Four years later, at the young age of 28, he set up his studio, Tadao Ando Architect and Associates in Osaka. He came to prominence in 1976 with the Azuma House, a row of traditional terrace houses in Sumiyoshi for which he received the Japanese Architectural Association Prize for Architecture. This work embodies the essential principles of Ando’s architecture whereby an introspective microcosm is created among the urban chaos of the modern society. His Church of Light and Church of Water, executed in the 1980s, further established him as an architect of world stature.

Ando explains his theory on design like so, ‘Whether is it designing a museum or any building types, be it a church or even a house, the basis of understanding the programme and site conditions remains unchanged. You grasp the individual merit and demerit of all the various conditions and evaluate them carefully one by one. Listening attentively to their voices is my way of design’.

The New Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Texas — — opened on the 14 December 2002, came about as the result of a competition held in 1996. Against competition from internationally acclaimed architects such as Richard Gluckman, Arata Isozaki, Carlos Jimenez, Ricardo Legorreta and David Schwarz, Ando’s proposal was selected in 1997 and construction began in 1999. Located in Fort Worth's Cultural District, the New Modern sits directly opposite the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis Kahn (and regarded by many as one of the best works of architecture of the 20th century) and near to the Amon Carter Museum, designed by Philip Johnson. Seeking a sensitive relationship to the barrel-vaulted Kimbell, Ando’s design is comprised of five long, flat roof pavilions, aligned on a north-south axis, floating over a 1.5 acre reflective pool of water. It is Ando's largest commission in the United States to date.

One of the most prominent features of the New Modern is the impressive 12 metre tall, concrete, Y-shaped columns, supporting the cantilevered concrete roofs of the galleries. The roofs shade the building exterior and allow diffused and reflected natural light into the gallery space. The gallery pavilions themselves are elegantly simple in design and material, predominantly concrete, oak, glass, granite and steel. With a further limitation of colours — white and two shades of grey — the simple palette provides a sense of calm in contrast to the magnificent artworks in the space. The rectangular structures which form the gallery space are each double-layered, with a concrete box enveloped by glass. The massive, planar concrete walls provide a stability that protects the artworks from the harsh weather of Fort Worth. Mitigating this massiveness, the transparent glass boxes further condition the exhibition spaces by reducing direct influence from the exterior environment. This resulting space between the concrete and the glass is similar to the Japanese concept of engawa space — a transitional space whereby the traditional distinct boundary between exterior and interior is transgressed and blurred. Add the large reflective pool of water with the greenery surrounding the site and the poetry is complete. By day, water, greenery and light are brought into the interior and one can see the happenings in the exhibition space while taking a rest outside. By night, the galleries glow like giant lanterns floating on the pool.

Ando’s works have been characterised by an abundance of seemingly abstract geometrical forms, cut through with curved or angled walls. It may seem reductivist, cold or even brutal at first sight, with the predominantly concrete structure saturated with a stark emptiness that could be seen sterile. Yet, in its masterful composition and skilful manipulation of topography and nature, light and shadow emits an interior warmth and tranquillity which imbues visitors with an exceptional sensory richness. Its meditative poignancy is further enhanced by the elegant simplicity of detailing and material — the exquisite concrete with its smooth finish juxtaposed with the use of glass, steel and timber.

Although concrete is Ando’s favourite material, he has used wood, to critical acclaim, in a few, rare projects including the Japan Pavilion for World Exposition 1992 in Seville, Spain; the Museum of Wood Culture in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan; and the Nangakuzan Komyo-ji Temple in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. His architecture speaks of the dual polarity of power and restraint, sensuality and reservation, linking international Modernism to the Japanese tradition of aesthetics.

A 21st century symbol for Paris

Ando is currently working on the Fondation d'Art Contemporain François Pinault in Ile Seguin, Paris, after winning an international design competition whose entrants included Perrault, Manuelle Gautrand, MVRDV, Rem Koolhaas and Steven Holl. Stretching to a length of 300 metres on the Seguin Island, in the middle of the river Seine, Ando’s latest addition to the Parisian landscape promises to usher in a new era of human creativity for the 21st century in Paris. Ando’s scheme stood out among the other proposals due to its strong concept of preserving urban memory, engaging in dialogue with the respected past while instilling new values for the future. The structure consists of two large spaces — a stepped-terraced ‘square’ that extends all the way to the island’s waterline and a ‘floating’ glass structure on the pilotis that traces the island’s contours. When completed in 2006, this museum will be a beacon of culture, be it through the ‘spaceship’ microcosm floating above or through the undefined ‘blank’ square that offers unlimited possibilities for creation.

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