Chapter architecture are complex architectural expressions which show

Chapter 2. Reinterpretation of Japanese architecture by Tadao Ando


 Ando spent his childhood and adolescence in Osaka, Japan. During that period, he randomly visited many shrines, residences, tea ceremony rooms, temples, gardens, and folk houses concentrated in and around Osaka, particularly those in Nara and Kyoto regarded as national treasures or important cultural assets. He states that on these trips he “acquired quite naturally the spatial sensibility that characterizes Japanese architecture”.1 Because of these experiences in his childhood and adolescence, the connection to nature, which is considered as a fundamental idea in Japanese traditional architecture, permeated Ando’s architectural philosophy, which later found expression in most of his architecture in the form of his own architectural language, such as his take on abstraction and geometry. The continuity with the past is illustrated by a spiritual and abstract method, rather than a superficial and one-dimensional method.

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 “The continuity between an interior and exterior space is one of the typical characteristics of traditional Japanese architecture and Ando often incorporates the space between inside and outside in his architectural proposals to embody spaces that comprehend Japanese sensitivities.”2 Openings in Ando’s architecture are complex architectural expressions which show the connection between interior and exterior and the communication with nature, rather than simply being a direct architectural opening toward the exterior. “In the most of Ando’s projects, he uses peripheral and neutral walls to create the impression of privacy, to break the duality between interior and exterior, and to make the occupants feel less cut off from their environment.”3 The peripheral and neutral walls in his works relate closely to partitions in Japanese architecture and shoji, the paper-like material used for translucent walls and windows. Ando also mentioned the use of glass blocks as neutral walls for Ishihara House, Osaka (1977-1978) “The faint light and silence sensed through the shoji screen, particular to Japanese architecture, are re-created by the glass blocks, a modern architectural material”. For another example of this, the Horiuchi House, Osaka (1977-1979), is composed of independent glass-block walls, surrounding two residential blocks and a central courtyard.


“The light that penetrates through the glass-block wall clarifies each territory with a change in time and suggests the interaction between the architecture and the city. The morning light entering through the glass blocks sheds light upon the courtyard…; at dusk, the west light that filters through the glass blocks lights up the street. Here, the glass-block wall is a ‘translucent wall’ which corresponds between the residence and the city.”4


The ambiance of Japanese traditional houses is reinterpreted using contemporary materials, glass-block walls which remind inhabitants about the ambiances created by the light filtering through the shoji. Openings to nature in Ando’s architecture can be also explained by the architectural structure. In Time’s I (1983-84) and Time’s II (1990-91), Kyoto, the neat connection between the building the Takase River is easily visible. To reactivate the relationship between human beings and water, the architect tried to connect the street and building to the river. When visitors enter the building, they can get an impression of being invited into the harmony provided by the river, or at least feel emotions arising from the close presence of the river. This kind of impression is maximized by the round-shaped entrance floor and the large and open entrance.


Photo 2-1 (Left). Horiuchi House. Tezukyama. Osaka. Japan (1978-79)

Photo 2-2 (Right). Time’s I. Kyoto. Japan (1983-84)



 Long routes before reaching the actual building are commonly found in traditional Japanese structures. Indirect routes create changes in scenery and leaves a stronger impression on people visiting as the space tends not to match their expectations. This principle is found in many of Ando’s projects of the time: the entrances of buildings are not direct and is instead laid out along a given route. Long routes in particular are found in religious buildings such as churches and temples. “The Church on the Water in Hokkaido (1985-88) consists of two overlapping square-shaped buildings, one of 10 meters per side, the other of 15 meters per side. Ando envisioned diverting a stream in order to create an artificial lake from which a cross rises and onto which the main meeting space opens.”5 It is impossible for visitors to directly access the main building because of the L-shaped wall. The L-shaped wall prevents the pool from being observed, so visitors are allowed to only feel the presence of water indirectly through the sound of water over the wall. At the end of the indirect path, visitors finally encounter the wide and peaceful pool and the cross. This route is indeed conducive to spirituality, especially as it is enlivened by the gradual unveiling of the landscape. Ando’s expression of indirect routes is consistent with the concept of the long route for cleansing the mind. Visitors can not directly feel the presence of water or of God in the indirect route, but instead they experience its or His existence indirectly. According to the architectural purpose of the building, substituting God for water makes it possible to clearly understand what Ando tried to express with indirect routes. The next example for illustrating indirect moving paths by Tadao Ando is the Chapel on Mount Rokko, Kobe (1986). In Time in Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Tadao Ando by Alex Veal, the author compares the chapel with the Jisho-ji temple in Kyoto to show how Ando reinterprets the indirect routes of traditional architecture. “The route in Ando’s chapel might be considered to begins some way from the grounds of the hotel itself, at Arima, a small town at the foot of Mount Rokko. The detachment of the building is emphasized by this slow journey and by the height of the mountain. The anticipation of arrival means that the experience of the chapel begins long before you reach it. A similar technique is used at Jisho-ji temple; a sloping path, framed by trees, leads up to the main gate.”6 When visitors enter the colonnade by following the long road, they are impressed with the open and wide space which shrinks rapidly. They then enter the rectangular base of the colonnade floor from the circular platform. At this moment, a small gap between the two platforms, a circle, and a square, offers tension to visitors. The process of entering the colonnade reminds visitors about passing through a temple gate or crossing the Uji bridge into the grounds of the Inner Shrine at Ise. This transition of space allows that visitors entering the new space to mentally separate the time before entering from that afterward. After that, visitors can experience a similar effect to that felt when moving between the tall Ginkakuji-gaki at Jisho-ji, a long monotonous passage surrounded by trees during they walk along the glazed colonnade. Visitors are given the time to purify their minds before entering the main building of the chapel; the long colonnade produces a warm light and shows the existence of nature beyond the wall, through shadow.


Photo 2-3 (Left). Plan of the Church of Water

Photo 2-4 (Right). The colonnade of the Chapel on Mount Rokko



 “Emptiness, the architecture of silence, is introspective. The mood created by simplicity exudes an atmosphere of harmony and an appeal for silence, necessary for experiencing the beauty of emptiness.”7 The emptiness in Ando’s architecture and of traditional Japanese architecture in general means not only physically empty space, but also functionally empty space. In addition to specific geometric configurations, Ando’s unique space is formed by interchanging the space between a functionally defined space and an uncertain space, which occurs when geometric spaces intersect with each other. These uncertain spaces are usually seen as empty and void forms. Ando’s uncertain space has a lot of similarities with the empty space of Japanese traditional space in terms of the philosophy, with meaning applied to the space based on the various experiences of a human individual occupying it. Benesse House, an art gallery in Naoshima Island, is composed of an oval-shaped main building and rectangle-shaped walls that surround the building at various angles. The unexpected empty spaces formed by the two geometries, the oval and the rectangle, are used as meaningful spaces for meditation and for the stimulating the senses, uses which go beyond the original function. Ando said “The uncertain and empty space of the building should be meaningful as much as the building itself. Ando’s thoughts on this are the reason why we can feel a balance between a functionally-defined space and an uncertain space.”8


Photo 2-5. Plan of Benesse House Museum.



 In Japanese traditional architecture, there are various kinds of architectural characteristics which hint at a close relationship with nature. The philosophy of coexistence with nature is also evident in the architecture by Tadao Ando. “The true character of any building by Ando cannot be understood unless one is present. That is because the character of the building is always derived from the dialogue between the building and the nature of that place.”9 Through the indirect and abstract nature of the Ando’ architecture, those who visit or stay in his buildings are able to meditate deeply and are given the opportunity for introspection. The Row House (1975-76) in Sumiyoshi is regarded as the culmination of Ando’s early work. It is located in a quite narrow space between two buildings, a 3.6-meter by 12.6-meter parcel. The structure resembles a three-tiered concrete box. In addition, the exterior is surrounded by concrete, and appears to be completely isolated from its surroundings. Although the building is closed to its surroundings, Ando tried to introduce nature using simple geometric forms and tried to endow the spaces with complexity through changes in light. The element that was most emphasised was the central open-air courtyard, Ando’s answer to the question of what is needed most to live in a place given to a human being. The courtyard constitutes a direct connection between the occupants and nature. “By the light of the courtyard, occupants can recognize the motions of the sun, the moon, the earth and meteorological changes. Moreover, space is not a system of control, but rather an entity linked to life; for example, the central courtyard makes it necessary to go back and forth from cold to hot.”10 Thus, His architecture is not simply about visibility, but about visibility in such a way that residents can experience nature, in all its senses, in their daily lives. The Church of Light, Ibaraki is composed of a very simple combination: a parallelepiped rectangle and a wall that fits into it at a 15-degree angle before partially surrounding it. When visitors enter the church, they encounter the light that comes in from the gap of depicting a cross behind the pulpit. Moreover, they can even feel the seasonal changes and the flow of time through the movement of light from the cross and from the scenery beyond. Additionally, The space and the light of the cross can be perceived variously as warm or cool, happy or sad, depending on the time and season, and the emotional state of the person viewing it. This is the result of an insightful idea by Ando that embodies the relationship between God and man using physical space, in an expression of the existence of God as nature itself. Consequently, Ando’s architecture can be completely and fully understood as a continuous metamorphosis, a constant transformation because of the penetration of nature into space.

1 Masato, K. (1990). Tadao Ando: A Dialogue Between Architecture and Nature.  Architectural Monograph, 14. p. 8.

2 Alyn, G. and Tadao, A. (2016). Tadao Ando: Japan’s Master Architect.

3 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 92.

4 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 66.

5 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 95.

6 Alex, V. (2002). Time in Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Tadao Ando. Cardiff University. p. 351.

7 Werner, B. (2001). Tadao Ando: Architecture of Silence. Basel: Birkhäuser. p. 19.

8 Kwan-Seok, L. (2005). Architectural Characteristics and its Implications in Tadao Ando’s Museums. Architectural Institute of Korea. p. 61.

9 Masato, K. (1990). Tadao Ando: A Dialogue Between Architecture and Nature.  Architectural Monograph, 14. p. 9

10 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 57.