Tadao Ando – Architect – remains Osaka’s Ando even long after becoming the world’s Ando. When he walks down the streets of his native city, people greet him spontaneously.
His lectures attracted a passionate following. Ando casually engages students, housewives, and taxi drivers in conversation, gladly shaking their hands and signing autographs. Also in Asia, Europe, and in America, crowds throng to his lectures and rock with laughter.
Yet the secret of Tadao Ando’s popularity has a great deal to do with his personality.
He approaches every project, regardless of its scope, like an animal that has staked its life on capturing its prey. He seems to win life’s brutal battles and achieve glory, only to cast it aside and race alone into the distance. This is his singular charm.
Ando ponders his personal experiences, adds intelligent ideas, and then incorporates them into his very essence. He is convinced that experience alone is his only valid weapon. In other words, that it is impossible to move others with mere knowledge, unaided by experience.
He is unmoved by architecture that springs entirely from the intellect.
He hates the manipulation of knowledge and games with form. For Ando, true architecture is not space expressed through metaphysics or aesthetics, but space that embodies physically absorbed wisdom. In this sense, he seeks neither beautiful nor skillful architecture. He values only intrepid architecture defined by its victory over the dilemma, suffering, and fear.
Because, unlike surface beauty, the only expression that invokes sublime emotions in the beholder is that on which a creator stakes his or her life. Behind this lies Ando’s belief that life is a constant struggle and that only conflict can incite passion.
A transparent geometry governs Ando’s work, It is clear but far from simple. It profoundly reflects the way he has lived his life, his philosophy, and his past experience. it provokes architectural awe.
I believe that Ando’s youthful experiences as a professional boxer and childhood experiences at home form the most significant influences on his movement toward architecture.
Ando describes his view of boxing and his own experiences as a 17-year old boxer in this way: “Boxing is a combat sport in which you rely only on yourself. In the months preceding, you dedicate yourself to training body and mind through practice and fasting. It is a draconian sport on which you gamble your life, embracing both solitude and glory.
My experiences as a boxer, the intensity of leaping into the ring, the loneliness of having to fight utterly by oneself, relying on no one, became my creative touchstone.”
After choosing architecture, Ando traveled the world in order to research and experience various buildings and spaces, but perhaps no structures influenced him more than the row houses of Osaka s Asahi Ward, where he grew up.
Ando has written of his experiences there: “After World War II, I lived in a narrow, oblong, wooden two-story row house with my grandmother, who ran a small shop from her home. Winters were so cold you could practically see the wind race through, and summers were stiflingly hot, admitting no breeze. That home was infuriating in summer and winter alike.
But living there, I grew enraged at society and felt inspired to improve living conditions. I feel that my experiences in that house provide crucial fuel for my creative energy.” The architecture of Ando’s personality is the very space he inhabited as a child.
Ando’s debut project, Row House, Sumiyoshi, perfectly embodies the twin experiences of the architect’s youthful boxing career and a childhood in one of Osaka’s less-than-affluent shitamachi row houses.
Yet the question remains, do architectural works resemble their creators? In other words, is architecture an allegory of its maker? Generally, when discussing architecture, it is taboo to base criticism on personal impressions.
However, Ando himself asserts, “Architecture resembles the architect,” and architecture inevitably betrays something of its creator’s character. A Japanese adage holds, “The style is the man,” so, too, “Architecture is the man.” Does the Sumiyoshi Row House, then, actually reflect Tadao Ando?
Ando named his dog Corbusier and he and his wife adored the pet. Now deceased, he went by the nickname “Corbu.” Ando is hopelessly vulnerable to wounded creatures. He loved dogs as a child, so much so that he used to take his own pet to elementary school.
Ando is both a tough architect with a cool critical eye and a deeply humane person who is gentle towards people and loving towards animals. Raymond Chandler once put the following words into Philip Marlowe’s mouth:
“If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.” The key to Ando’s style of “hard-boiled” lies in his cool ability to differentiate between being tough and being loving.
Tadao Ando was born in Osaka in 1941. He was a twin. His parents had designated Tadao as heir to his mother’s family line and his maternal grandmother raised him. It is impossible to overstate Ando’s grandmother’s influence, exerted over the many years Tadao lived alone with her. Sometimes a father, then a mother, she became Tadao’s most important mentor.
Her character was suffused with the traditional rationalism and independence of an Osakan merchant family, and she instilled in her grandson a strict understanding of the essential rules of such a life. Ando had his tonsils removed as a child.
On the morning of the operation, his grandmother handed him his washbowl, toothbrush and a change of clothes and sent the boy off to the hospital by himself. Although this shocked him, Ando now understands his grandmother’s actions as a message to become a person sufficiently strong to overcome hardship alone. Thus Ando committed himself to self-reliance, no matter how demanding the circumstances. To survive alone one must be strong. The weak burden others.
Ultimately, these principles lead to the conviction that even an individual has the power to change the world. For Ando, raised within Osaka’s typical shitamachi, a mixed-use neighbourhood comprising low-income row houses, shops and small factories, the streets served as a school and the factories as classrooms.
Every day, after school, Tadao frequented a carpenter’s shop across the street from his grandmother’s house. There he learned to recognise wood’s personality and witnessed the precision of the human hand, which can work to an accuracy of -moth of one millimetre.
He poured cast metal into a wooden frame of his own design and blew glass at another nearby factory. Through these experiences, he developed a keen sensitivity to materials and now, when he formulates the details of a project, he starts from scratch, honing a knack for ideas that stem from the character and essence of each element, rather than from conventional designs.
Tadao often visited a master carpenter who declared as he chiselled, “Even wood has character and you have to encourage it in the right direction.” Craftsmanship requires perseverance but it also brings things nobly to life and offers the daily sense of accomplishment born of physical contact with its objects.
An architect acquires freedom of imagination by removing himself from physical objects, but in doing so, loses his physical grounding. Ando still has a model boat that he made as a child. It bears witness to his respect for the master woodworker and his broader infatuation with craftsmen.
Though he renounced the life of a craftsman to become an architect, his keen instincts for wood have survived. Ando’s handmade cherry T-square and oak furniture are both immensely precise and clean. As one might expect, Ando has chosen dimensions that test the wood’s limits.