Row House (Azuma), by Tadao Ando at Sumiyoshi, Osaka
Row House or Azuma House in Sumiyoshi is in Osaka’s shitumachi (“low city”) Sumiyoshi Shrine. In the middle of this working class neighbourhood full of odours of everyday life stands a mute wall. Known as Osaka’s “Deep South” district, this, area is where Ando began his career as an architecture. From the end of the 1960s to the early 1970s, Ando as an architect was engaged in a struggle to create ample living spaces on narrow sites. It was a struggle to establish his identity as an architect while wrestling with complex factors- such as tradition and modernity, the desires and the limited budgets of clients, the exigencies of everyday life and the demands of aesthetics in a city that still retains a strong Asian quality.
Ando, who sees himself as a fighter-architect, developed a number of bold proposals for small houses. Among those houses, the Row House or Azuma House in Sumiyoshi is his crowning achievement—a fortress befitting an architect intent on developing his skills through repeated “trials of combat”. It is also a house in which characteristics of his subsequent work are already evident.
Row House Facade and Elevation Design
Let us first take stock of the facts concerning the facade. We see an axially symmetrical composition, an overall form having a gatehouse-like character and a doorway in a central location. In the design of the elevation Ando uses only two rectangular forms: the overall outline of the building, and the doorway. From the drawings, we can also confirm that the entire site has been designed and divided longitudinally into three parts and that the courtyard too has been divided into three equal parts. Tripartition is applied to the building as a whole. Tripartition and axial symmetry are generally regarded as compositional rules of classical architecture. Although there are no columns here, many will probably judge this wall to be of the Doric or Tuscan order.
Also See: 4×4 House Design by architect Tadao Ando
However, having a classical model does not fully explain the appeal of the Row House in Sumiyoshi. What makes this building appealing is the way a simple geometrical design produces an extremely rich spatial experience. Note, for example, the stairway in the courtyard. We turn left at the front entrance, enter the courtyard, turn -18o degrees to ascend the stairway, turn -18o degrees once more, cross the bridge and arrive at a bedroom at the far end of the second floor.
Geometry and Plan
A complex circulation plan transforms a simple geometry into a rich spatial experience. That is Ando’s spatial magic at work. This progression a clear geometry followed by a complex circulation plan leading to a rich spatial experience is a technique for transforming through experience a cold geometrical schema into a place of life, and is fundamental to Ando’s architecture. Ando’s treatment of nature in the city is something else that distinguishes his work.
The courtyard of the Row House in Sumiyoshi is a secluded space cut off from the commotion of the city; it is open only to the sky. The courtyard is a window, accepting light, wind and rain so that nature is able to seep into the spirit of the observer. When we stand in the courtyard and look up at the stars in the night sky, the mute walls frame the landscape and we are made aware of the flow of air and intimations of the changing seasons. That is because the courtyard, made of concrete, glass, and slate, reflects incident light and causes complex shadows.
This is the moment when Ando’s mute walls create a poetic, haiku-like effect. (Haiku is a highly concise, traditional form of Japanese poetry, often having a seasonal theme.) For the family the space becomes much larger than its mere physical extent. It becomes a world in miniature. Matter has a psychological effect on the observer precisely because the absence of ornament invites extraordinary empathy. That is the reason why Ando’s buildings are said to be the ultimate expression of the Japanese sense of beauty. A place of nothingness is in the very nature of Japanese culture.
Ando’s Vision with Row House
The Row House in Sumiyoshi has a social theme as well as a design theme. Ando introduces a concrete box amidst the dilapidated wooden row houses that crowd the central areas of Osaka and creates a highly self-sufficient living space inside that box. Ando ensures individual privacy, something traditional town houses were unable to provide; he creates a residential space that enables modern individuals to develop.
For Tadao Ando, architecture can be a weapon for social reform. Ando agonized over the question “architecture or revolution?” in his twenties but eventually chose architecture. He became convinced that “to change the dwelling is to change the city and to reform society.”
Row House in Sumiyoshi is an expression of Ando’s belief that the house is precisely the building type that can change society. With its simple composition and variegated spaces, its sense of closure, and its living spaces dramatized by light, the Row House in Sumiyoshi is the architectural prototype of Ando’s imagination.