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Chapter 2. Reinterpretation
of Japanese architecture by Tadao Ando


 Ando spent his childhood and adolescence in
Osaka, Japan. During that period, he randomly visited many shrines, residences,
tea ceremony rooms, temples, gardens, and folk houses concentrated in and
around Osaka, particularly those in Nara and Kyoto regarded as national
treasures or important cultural assets. He states that on these trips he “acquired quite naturally the spatial
sensibility that characterizes Japanese architecture”.1
Because of these experiences in his childhood and adolescence, the connection
to nature, which is considered as a fundamental idea in Japanese traditional
architecture, permeated Ando’s architectural philosophy, which later found
expression in most of his architecture in the form of his own architectural
language, such as his take on abstraction and geometry. The continuity with the
past is illustrated by a spiritual and abstract method, rather than a superficial
and one-dimensional method.

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 “The continuity between an interior
and exterior space is one of the typical characteristics of traditional
Japanese architecture and Ando often incorporates the space between inside and
outside in his architectural proposals to embody spaces that comprehend
Japanese sensitivities.”2
Openings in Ando’s architecture are complex architectural expressions which
show the connection between interior and exterior and the communication with
nature, rather than simply being a direct architectural opening toward the exterior. “In
the most of Ando’s projects, he uses peripheral and neutral walls to create the
impression of privacy, to break the duality between interior and exterior, and
to make the occupants feel less cut off from their environment.”3
The peripheral and neutral walls in his works relate closely to partitions in Japanese
architecture and shoji, the paper-like
material used for translucent walls and windows. Ando also mentioned the use of
glass blocks as neutral walls for Ishihara House, Osaka (1977-1978) “The faint light and silence sensed through
the shoji screen, particular to Japanese architecture, are re-created by the
glass blocks, a modern architectural material”. For another example of
this, the Horiuchi House, Osaka (1977-1979), is composed of independent glass-block
walls, surrounding two residential blocks and a central courtyard.


“The light that penetrates through the glass-block wall
clarifies each territory with a change in time and suggests the interaction
between the architecture and the city. The morning light entering through the
glass blocks sheds light upon the courtyard…; at dusk, the west light that
filters through the glass blocks lights up the street. Here, the glass-block
wall is a ‘translucent wall’ which corresponds between the residence and the


ambiance of Japanese traditional houses is reinterpreted using contemporary
materials, glass-block walls which remind inhabitants about the ambiances
created by the light filtering through the shoji.
Openings to nature in Ando’s architecture can be also explained by the
architectural structure. In Time’s I (1983-84) and Time’s II (1990-91), Kyoto,
the neat connection between the building the Takase River is easily visible. To
reactivate the relationship between human beings and water, the architect tried
to connect the street and building to the river. When visitors enter the building,
they can get an impression of being invited into the harmony provided by the
river, or at least feel emotions arising from the close presence of the river.
This kind of impression is maximized by the round-shaped entrance floor and the
large and open entrance.


Photo 2-1 (Left). Horiuchi House. Tezukyama. Osaka. Japan

Photo 2-2 (Right). Time’s I. Kyoto. Japan (1983-84)



 Long routes before reaching the actual
building are commonly found in traditional Japanese structures. Indirect routes
create changes in scenery and leaves a stronger impression on people visiting
as the space tends not to match their expectations. This principle is found in
many of Ando’s projects of the time: the entrances of buildings are not direct
and is instead laid out along a given route. Long routes in particular are found
in religious buildings such as churches and temples. “The Church on the Water in Hokkaido (1985-88) consists of two
overlapping square-shaped buildings, one of 10 meters per side, the other of 15
meters per side. Ando envisioned diverting a stream in order to create an
artificial lake from which a cross rises and onto which the main meeting space
opens.”5 It is
impossible for visitors to directly access the main building because of the
L-shaped wall. The L-shaped wall prevents the pool from being observed, so
visitors are allowed to only feel the presence of water indirectly through the
sound of water over the wall. At the end of the indirect path, visitors finally
encounter the wide and peaceful pool and the cross. This route is indeed
conducive to spirituality, especially as it is enlivened by the gradual
unveiling of the landscape. Ando’s expression of indirect routes is consistent
with the concept of the long route for cleansing the mind. Visitors can not
directly feel the presence of water or of God in the indirect route, but instead
they experience its or His existence indirectly. According to the architectural
purpose of the building, substituting God for water makes it possible to clearly
understand what Ando tried to express with indirect routes. The next example
for illustrating indirect moving paths by Tadao Ando is the Chapel on Mount
Rokko, Kobe (1986). In Time in Japanese Architecture:
Tradition and Tadao Ando by Alex Veal, the author compares the chapel with
the Jisho-ji temple in Kyoto to show how
Ando reinterprets the indirect routes of traditional architecture. “The route in Ando’s chapel might be
considered to begins some way from the grounds of the hotel itself, at Arima, a
small town at the foot of Mount Rokko. The detachment of the building is
emphasized by this slow journey and by the height of the mountain. The
anticipation of arrival means that the experience of the chapel begins long
before you reach it. A similar technique is used at Jisho-ji temple; a sloping
path, framed by trees, leads up to the main gate.”6
When visitors enter the colonnade by following the long road, they are
impressed with the open and wide space which shrinks rapidly. They then enter
the rectangular base of the colonnade floor from the circular platform. At this
moment, a small gap between the two platforms, a circle, and a square, offers
tension to visitors. The process of entering the colonnade reminds visitors
about passing through a temple gate or crossing the Uji bridge into the grounds of the Inner Shrine at Ise. This transition of space allows
that visitors entering the new space to mentally separate the time before
entering from that afterward. After that, visitors can experience a similar
effect to that felt when moving between the tall Ginkakuji-gaki at Jisho-ji, a
long monotonous passage surrounded by trees during they walk along the glazed
colonnade. Visitors are given the time to purify their minds before entering
the main building of the chapel; the long colonnade produces a warm light and
shows the existence of nature beyond the wall, through shadow.


Photo 2-3 (Left). Plan of the Church of Water

Photo 2-4 (Right). The colonnade of the Chapel on Mount Rokko



the architecture of silence, is introspective. The mood created by simplicity
exudes an atmosphere of harmony and an appeal for silence, necessary for
experiencing the beauty of emptiness.”7
The emptiness in Ando’s architecture and of traditional Japanese architecture in
general means not only physically empty space, but also functionally empty space. In addition to specific geometric
configurations, Ando’s unique space is formed by interchanging the space between
a functionally defined space and an uncertain space, which occurs when
geometric spaces intersect with each other. These uncertain spaces are usually seen
as empty and void forms. Ando’s uncertain space has a lot of similarities with
the empty space of Japanese traditional space in terms of the philosophy, with
meaning applied to the space based on the various experiences of a human
individual occupying it. Benesse House, an art gallery in Naoshima Island, is
composed of an oval-shaped main building and rectangle-shaped walls that
surround the building at various angles. The unexpected empty spaces formed by the
two geometries, the oval and the rectangle, are used as meaningful spaces for meditation
and for the stimulating the senses, uses which go beyond the original function.
Ando said “The uncertain and empty space
of the building should be meaningful as much as the building itself. Ando’s
thoughts on this are the reason why we can feel a balance between a
functionally-defined space and an uncertain space.”8


Photo 2-5. Plan of Benesse House Museum.



 In Japanese traditional architecture, there
are various kinds of architectural characteristics which hint at a close
relationship with nature. The philosophy of coexistence with nature is also
evident in the architecture by Tadao Ando. “The
true character of any building by Ando cannot be understood unless one is present.
That is because the character of the
building is always derived from the dialogue between the building and the
nature of that place.”9
Through the indirect and abstract nature of the Ando’ architecture, those who visit
or stay in his buildings are able to meditate deeply and are given the
opportunity for introspection. The Row House (1975-76) in Sumiyoshi is regarded
as the culmination of Ando’s early work. It is located in a quite narrow space
between two buildings, a 3.6-meter by 12.6-meter parcel. The structure resembles
a three-tiered concrete box. In addition, the exterior is surrounded by
concrete, and appears to be completely isolated from its surroundings. Although
the building is closed to its surroundings, Ando tried to introduce nature using
simple geometric forms and tried to endow the spaces with complexity through
changes in light. The element that was most emphasised was the central open-air
courtyard, Ando’s answer to the question of what is needed most to live in a
place given to a human being. The courtyard constitutes a direct connection
between the occupants and nature. “By the
light of the courtyard, occupants can recognize the motions of the sun, the
moon, the earth and meteorological changes. Moreover, space is not a system of
control, but rather an entity linked to life; for example, the central
courtyard makes it necessary to go back and forth from cold to hot.”10 Thus, His architecture is not simply
about visibility, but about visibility in such a way that residents can
experience nature, in all its senses, in their daily lives. The Church of Light,
Ibaraki is composed of a very simple combination: a parallelepiped rectangle
and a wall that fits into it at a 15-degree angle before partially surrounding
it. When visitors enter the church, they encounter the light that comes in from
the gap of depicting a cross behind the pulpit. Moreover, they can even feel
the seasonal changes and the flow of time through the movement of light from
the cross and from the scenery beyond. Additionally, The space and the light of
the cross can be perceived variously as warm or cool, happy or sad, depending
on the time and season, and the emotional state of the person viewing it. This
is the result of an insightful idea by Ando that embodies the relationship
between God and man using physical space, in an expression of the existence of
God as nature itself. Consequently, Ando’s architecture can be completely and
fully understood as a continuous metamorphosis, a constant transformation
because of the penetration of nature into space.


1 Masato, K. (1990). Tadao Ando: A
Dialogue Between Architecture and Nature.
 Architectural Monograph, 14. p. 8.

2 Alyn, G. and Tadao, A. (2016). Tadao Ando: Japan’s Master Architect.

3 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 92.

4 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 66.

5 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser.
p. 95.

6 Alex, V. (2002). Time in Japanese Architecture: Tradition and
Tadao Ando. Cardiff
University. p. 351.

7 Werner, B.
(2001). Tadao Ando: Architecture of Silence. Basel: Birkhäuser. p. 19.

8 Kwan-Seok, L. (2005). Architectural Characteristics and its
Implications in Tadao Ando’s Museums. Architectural Institute of Korea. p.

9 Masato, K. (1990). Tadao Ando: A
Dialogue Between Architecture and Nature.
 Architectural Monograph, 14. p. 9

10 Yan, N. (2009). Tadao Ando. English Edition. Boston: Birkhäuser. p. 57.

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