Revolving around four main themes – the simplicity of space, the urban challenge, project genesis and dialogue with the past – the exhibition takes the visitor through the key principles behind Tadao Ando’s creations, such as his use of smooth concrete, the prominence given to simple geometric volumes, the incorporation of natural elements in his spatial arrangements and the importance he ascribes to the intensity of the physical experience generated by his architecture.
“Tadao Ando: The Challenge”
October 10 – December 31, 2018
Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris,
Through the fifty major projects on show, illustrated via 180 drawings, 70 original plans and numerous slideshows, this retrospective charts the different periods of his career as an architect and highlights his major accomplishments, from the Azuma House in Sumiyoshi (1976) to the Bourse de Commerce (stock exchange) in Paris (Autumn 2019).
Interview between the artist and the exhibition curator published in Code Couleur n°32, september-december 2018, pp. 16-19:
Frédéric Migayrou – You set up your firm in 1969 and, in 1971, you completed your first house, the Guerrilla House, which was essentially your manifesto. Later, you bought back the house and it became your headquarters. Since then, you have rebuilt it six times.
In 1970, Osaka hosted the World Fair, the impact of which was felt around the world, but you kept your distance from this event, the metabolist movement and the notion of technological and economic expansion. What was your thinking at that time? Was the Guerrilla House a response to a political stance, or a sort of manifesto?
Tadao Ando – The Guerrilla House was more of a challenge than a political message. Up until that point, in Japan at least, only public buildings – libraries, gymnasiums or museums – were considered architecture. People would say: “Housing? But that’s not architecture.” Same thing when it came to size: people believed it wasn’t possible to create architecture with such small buildings. So, I figured what was needed were opportunities and hope for the many architects, me included. The first challenge I wanted to meet was how to create a fully suitable dwelling of 70 square metres that would also raise questions. The same with commercial architecture. I thought that by seeking to create a new world, then that in itself would pose a challenge. Architecture couldn’t be limited to public buildings.
FM – Your harshest criticism of modernism is directed at Mies van der Rohe, even though it could be said that his use of glass screens reflects a certain element of the relationship between the interior and the exterior that characterises Japanese architecture. Conversely, your early projects enclosed spaces with walls and, perhaps in a nod to the Gutai movement, the body became the key principle for defining the architectural space.
TA – At the end of the day, who is architecture for? The fact that it is used by people means it is closely linked to the body. If architecture is created by superimposing a world and drawing on practical rather than abstract concepts, then both of those elements – the world and the concepts – need to be considered. In that sense, isn’t shintai important? Our bodies can perceive all manner of elements, such as air or materials.
I learned that by constantly observing architecture. For example, the Katsura Imperial Villa is a famous aristocratic residence and, while we do also need this type of building, there is more to it than that: in small spaces like machiya houses, you’ll find a tsuboniwa – a little courtyard – where light and shadow come in and the rain falls. All those little experiences to be had in this space are, for me, something special. Architecture needs to embrace the joy of human life. Otherwise, our bodies will not be drawn to it.
FM – In your architectural work, abstraction is a method, but not one for achieving derealisation or reduction. Rather, it is a generic principle. To that end, you have established a type of grammar, with the notion of pillar and wall, and the geometric systems you implement – the simple shapes, circles, rectangles, squares, multiplying and sub-dividing to create intermediary spaces. On the basis of this simple grammar, you flip the constructive logic of modernism to free up space for the body; space is for living in and not, as modernism would have it, an abstract concept.
TA – Isn’t geometry, rather than a method, the outcome of a lengthy reflection? If I pursue geometry, I end up in Greece. And if I continue to chase after it, I’m obliged to make something abstract of it. In a world where you really have to think in order to come up with practical architecture, I go back to the starting point of the circle, the square and the triangle. But this alone is not enough to create architecture. So, how do you create it? Having had to think about it, I arrived at the link between dimension, height, surface and three-dimensional volumes. The next thing was how to introduce material into this quest for the link between volume, height and surface. By following the material, the shape and the geometry. No easy task. Young people don’t get it but, I can assure you, it’s the most important thing…
FM – Increasingly, your projects involve collective schemes – churches, museums, foundations, lots of spiritual places in which this experience of space and architecture can be shared – right through to projects encompassing vast areas and opening up new links between nature and architecture. Does this spiritual aspect of your architecture allow you to rethink the concept of the community and bring individuals together at a societal or even international level, outside of the bounds of specific cultures?
TA – What I have learned from observing Romanesque buildings such as Le Thoronet Abbey or Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey is that light is hope. When I designed the Church of Light, my idea was that the light entering through the cross should be perceived differently by each individual. So, if there are thirty people, the light has to come through in such a way as to be experienced in thirty different ways. And at the same time, those thirty people should feel as one. I created this space by wondering if light symbolises the community. Architecture is also about creating community places. In that respect, architects carry a heavy responsibility. Many people pin their hopes on architecture. And that’s not just the case of the Church of Light. For example, in Kobe, on the coast, I designed a collective housing complex consisting of a network of units each measuring five metres but all with different interior spaces. Similarly, to go back to the topic of light, I designed the Koshino House so that the way in which the light enters from different places makes you want to scoop it up in your hands. I need to consider light in a different way for each building. That’s how I started out with my projects and how I still operate today. I produce my architecture by asking how I can design things that will remain engraved on the human soul for all eternity. Extract from the exhibition catalogue.