On Thursday 2 June, the renowned Japanese architect, Tadao Ando Hon RA, delivered a lecture on his work and architectural philosophy. Yuki Sumner, author of New Architecture in Japan reported on the lecture.
Portrait of Tadao Ando Photo: Keitaku Hayashi
Accompanied by an interpreter flown in all the way from Canada, the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando delivered a riveting lecture in his trademark Kansai dialect to a packed audience. That he retains his own dialect when he is publicly speaking (I have seen him give a lecture in Tokyo) shows how proud he is of his furusato or hometown. Ando mentions the Japanese word a few times over the evening. The meaning of it, however, seems to shift, as he employs it to mean sometimes the Kansai region, and at other times, the whole of Japan, depending on how he sees himself. He is, after all, a global architect who builds all over the world. He is here in London to commemorate the opening of a new public square in Mayfair, which he helped to design.
Ando starts and ends his lecture with reference to two Cubist artists, Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso. It is possible that he envisions himself to be one such modernist artist. He goes on to mention contemporary artists such as Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Long, all of whom are, he says, his friends, and for whom he is willing to make compromises, albeit reluctantly. The architect tells one anecdote after another, while flicking through the slides of his work from the Pulitzer Foundation of Arts in St Louis, the U.S. to Chichu Museum in Naoshima, Japan, apparently taking delight in what he calls “the battles of passion” between himself and these artists.
It is a well-known fact that Ando is a self-taught architect and that he was formerly a professional boxer. His working ethos seems to be derived from around the time when he was a boxer: “be brave!” he says at one time; “never give up!” he says another time. Ando obviously relishes all the negotiations (or “battles”), which he has to make with clients. The rest is easy; all he needs is concrete, and possibly a little bit of water and light, to make yet another beautiful space. At least, this is the impression I get.
Church of the Light, Osaka, 1989 by Tadao Ando Photo: Mitsuo Matsuoka One of the most amusing anecdotes (and there were many) was about designing a series of apartment blocks in Kobe, which took over 25 years to complete. The Japanese architect had an ambition to design a building on a slope, “because both Kahn and Corbusier worked on slopes.” When a developer approached him to build a block of apartments on a plot at the foot of a large hill, the architect insisted that the new building needed to be actually on the steep slope behind the original plot. Ando went on to build two more blocks of apartments nearby. He is now eyeing up the forth plot around the corner. Anticipating a difficult negotiation, the architect asked the president of the company who recently purchased it: “I trust you can knock him out?” referring to a powerful Yakuza boss who lives on the plot, implying therefore that he needed Ando’s help. Who can, indeed, resist Ando?