Tadao Ando - Haiku Architecture with Concrete and Light

Contemporary architect Tadao Ando was born on 13 September 1941 in Osaka, Japan. Raised by his great-grandmother, he pursued a short career as a boxer and fighter. He then apprenticed with many designers and city planners and learned the art of designing and organizing spaces by visiting local temples, and shrines in Japan and the work of masters like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Khan in Europe. 

He established his own design studio, Tadao Ando architects and Associates, in Osaka in 1968, as a self-taught architect. He has since built some of the greatest buildings in Japan and around the world which have a distinct minimalist style and extensive use of concrete and light as main elements. 


The Haiku Effect 

Row house in Sumoyishi

“If you give people nothingness, they can ponder what can be achieved from that nothingness” 

  • Ando’s architectural style is such that it creates a haiku effect- emphasizing nothingness and empty space to represent the beauty of simplicity. 
  • He was heavily influenced by the religion where he grew up. The Zen idea of capturing value in removing the unnecessary and embracing simplicity is embodied in his buildings. His style is characterized by simple exteriors with complex circulation patterns that connect the interior and exterior.
  • Unplastered exposed concrete is his preferred material. The wooden shutterings used for casting the concrete are varnished to achieve smooth as silk finish on the outside. The bolts that hold the shuttering together result in beautiful evenly spaced holes in the concrete that have become associated with his style. 

Poetry of light

UNESCO meditation space
  • Sunlight and wind are two natural factors that are beautifully woven into Ando’s buildings. 
  • He plays with different orientations and sizes of slits on his cool gray concrete walls that bring in daylight and create striking shadows. Slits between the wall and the ceiling that show the blue sky through the gray concrete and colored wood screens that play with the warmth of light are some of the ways he creatively incorporates light into his structures. 
  • The light here is used to break the monotony of the concrete surface, separate vertical from horizontal and give the building depth. The interplay of light and shadow in his buildings creates dramatic interiors.
  • He also uses water around the building as an element to reflect the beauty of the surroundings and the structure itself, while promoting a sense of peace and calmness. 

Best Works

Water Temple

  • It is a scenic temple located in the hilly region of Hompukuji, Japan.
  • Deviating from the traditional Buddhist temples that are made of wood, this temple is made of concrete.
  • White gravel forms the path leading to the temple, 
  • The temple is partly located underground and is roofed by a lotus pond. 
  • Rectangular entrance slits guide the eyes downwards towards darkness. 
  • One needs to descend a narrow staircase flanked by concrete walls and gradually make their way through different geometric elements before reaching the sanctuary. 
  • The sanctuary is oval like the pond above and built based on the traditional model of temples.
  • Natural light from a single source enters the room from a grating behind the statue of Buddha flooding the room with warm light. 
  • The lotus pond is divided in the middle by a passageway that is symbolic of a Japanese tradition. The stillness of the water reflects the serene surroundings and has a meditative quality. 
  • The use of water and light in this temple transforms it from just a building to an experience. 

Church of Light

  • Located in the outskirts of Osaka, Japan, this church is a good example of Ando’s minimalist style.
  • The chapel is of the form of a cube with three sides punctured by a wall at 15 degree angle. This angled wall doesn’t touch the other wall or ceiling,giving the illusion that the roof is floating and permitting light to enter horizontally. The wall also has a glass screen and breaks the orthogonality of the space.
  • The east facade has a cut out of the form of a crucifix. This is the only source for external light to enter the interior of the chapel, creating an ambient dark space for praying. 
  • The chapel is oriented towards the south east so that morning rays can directly enter. By keeping the number of openings to a minimum, the amount of sunshine through the crucifix is intensified. 
  • The use of concrete and light in this structure is such that it forces the user to forget the outside world. 

Rokko Housing

  • It is a housing complex located on the hills of Rokko mountains in Kobe, Japan. 
  • It consists of 3 stages, Rokko I,II and III, built on plots above each other. 
  • Constructed along a 60-degree steep slope, the houses are built into the landscape, without modifying the terrain entirely or using stilts. This has resulted in a variety of different layouts that are adapted to the terrain. 
  • Rokko I has a grid layout with twenty houses. Each house is of a different type and size and has terraces with varying views. 
  • Rokko II is centered around a staircase and has 50 houses in a grid layout featuring an indoor pool. 
  • Rokko III is L shaped with garden terraces and uses prefabrication technology due to its vast size.
  • Reinforced concrete is used for the structure and the facade.
  • Each house has its unique identity, with different views, forms and plans.
  • Public terraces are used to break the monotony, bring in aesthetics and to promote interaction between the neighbors. The complex also features alleys which creates a link between nature, public spaces and private spaces.  
  • The housing complex has achieved adequate openness without compromising on privacy. 

4x4 Housing 

  • It is a residence located in Kobe, Japan, on a piece of land very close to the epicenter of the Hanshin earthquake of 1995. 
  • The original idea was to construct twin houses and this was fulfilled when the owner of the adjacent plot approached Ando, asking him to build a similar house in a different material. 
  • The house has the minimum floor dimensions of 4x4 and grows vertically. 
  • The storeroom is in the basement, the entryway and service area are on the ground floor, the bedroom is on the first floor, study on the second and a combined kitchen, dining and living room in the final level. 
  • The final level is of the form of a 4 meter cube displaced 1 meter from the main structure. It features a floor to ceiling glass facade that captures the beauty of the ocean. It also appears to be larger in scale than the other 4x4 cubes. 
  • The first house is built with concrete and has stairs while the second is built of pine from oregon and paulownia wood and has a lift. 
  • Taking the form of a watchtower, the house involves light, water and wind using geometry and becomes a part of the sea. 

With his architectural works, Tadao Ando has successfully created poetry using light, water and wind as materials in his building while staying true to his minimal style with a touch of traditional Japanese architecture and values. 

Tadao Ando - Haiku Architecture with Concrete and Light