The winner of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2002, Tadao Ando is one of the most renowned architects working today. In addition to the plans for the renovation of the Clark Art Institute, a number of his most prominent design projects are featured in an exhibit within the museum. The Tadao Ando Exhibit, running through April, 2003, provides a unique opportunity to experience architecture that harmonizes a minimalist Western vocabulary with a profound respect for nature.
Born in 1941, Ando followed a self-directed approach, never attending architecture school and never working for another architect. Instead, his training included an apprenticeship with a carpenter and several trips throughout Europe, where he was influenced by the work of Luis Baragon and Luis Kahn. Growing up as a street kid in Tokyo, with a brief stint as a professional boxer, determination guided him to his present position as a Professor at the University of Tokyo – a major achievement in Japanese society.
Conceptually, his architecture derives from an understanding of modernism as being born of functionalism. He conceives of space as a dark, heavy, powerful void, inspiring reflection. He views composition as parts of a body fitting together and often includes seemingly illogical elements into his work which reflect his understanding of and connection to people. Finally, he insists upon responsible architecture that takes into consideration what is taken away from the earth in the creation of something new.
Thematically, he balances rational, man-made forms with the unpredictable natural world. With a Japanese vision, he connects indoor spaces with the exterior by incorporating earth, wind, light, rain and sky into his design, seeking to restore the relationship between man and nature.
He plays with simple geometric forms, choreographing an interaction between masses and voids. He reduces distraction by minimalizing light sockets, intercoms, and ductwork. Structural elements remain unarticulated, quiet, flush with thick walls enclosing inwardly focused buildings and sanctuary-like spaces.
Ando articulates minimalist forms by often limiting his architectural medium to concrete, glass and steel. Inscribing a level of detail and craft into the original design concept, he dematerializes the quality of concrete, emphasizes the surface, and introduces a juxtaposition between the visual lightness and the heavy reality of concrete.
While a number of buildings stand out in the exhibit, Ando’s design of Church on the Water is particularly demonstrative of his use of architecture in connecting man with nature. Resting on a plateau in a mountainous region of Japan and consisting of two overlapping squares, the church is designed with a glass altar wall that opens up to the expanse of a pond and wilderness beyond.
Ando’s design for the exhibit reflects his attention to detail. Architectural spaces are defined by a series of freestanding walls encasing his work, while view holes cut from the walls provide the viewer with an introspective view of his architecture.
The Tadao Ando Exhibit depicts the work of a masterful architect and provides insight into his planned restoration of the Clark.