When it comes to shaping what Japanese architecture today, there’s no name more iconic than Tadao Ando. The self-taught architect was once on a path to become a successful boxer, however discovering a love of design he decided to follow a career in architecture despite any formal training.
His unorthodox approach to art and design has seen him push the boundaries of what architecture can be time and time again, changing how Japan and the wider world sees buildings. Here are 7 of his most striking works you can explore right here in Japan.
1. 21_21 Design Sight (2007)
A meeting of two of the country’s biggest design minds, 21_21 Design Sight is a collaborative effort between Ando and iconic fashion designer Issey Miyake. This design gallery is located in the densely museum-populated district of Roppongi. The idea of this particular building was not only to show works, but to create a center that looks into how the element of design enriches our daily lives.
Take some time to inspect the carefully hand-sanded steel roof, inspired by Issey Miyake's A-POC ("A Piece of Cloth") concept. Though most of this building is actually located underground, the long stretching panels of glass ingenuously allow natural light to flood the concrete bunker.
While you're visiting 21_21, here are some other top things to do in the Roppongi Art Triangle!
2. Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (2002)
The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe is another impressive work by this concrete loving architect. The purpose built municipal art gallery was opened in 2002 and features a variety of works from both foreign and Japanese artists. The most striking element of this art space is the staircases that have provided plenty of photographic fodder over the years! With architecture as striking as the art it holds, this place is really something special for art lovers of all walks of life.
3. Church of Light (1989)
If you ever find yourself in the humble town of Ibaraki, about 25km outside of Osaka it would be a crime not to pay a visit to the Church of Light, one of Ando’s signature architectural works. Blending design, spirituality and history all into one building, this renovation Christian compound is nothing short of astonishing.
The mainly concrete building plays with light - an ideology similar the stained glass windows of traditional Christian churches - but he turns the whole idea on its head completely. This dark, meditative concrete shell of a building is pierced by an illuminated cross that transmits the natural outdoor light into the church hall. Mixing innovation with simplicity, this is one work Tadao Ando fans cannot miss.
If you're interested to read more about Tadao Ando, including his many works outside of Japan, you can take a look at Tadao Ando: Complete Works 1975-Today by Philip Jodidio. It contains a comprehensive collection of his designs, including some interesting architectural sketches by the man himself.
4. 4x4 house (2003)
This building located in Kobe is powerful in its simplicity. It was the result of a magazine competition which saw Ando create a structure adapted to the specific requirements of the site, which was greatly influenced by the Hanshin earthquake that devastated the area less than 10 years before.
Once he completed construction in the first house, another client asked Ando to build something similar on the neighboring piece of land. This gave Ando the opportunity to fulfill his original idea of two houses crafted from different materials coming together to create one wholly impressive work of design. Situated on the Hyogo coast, each floor of these buildings is a concrete mass, which comes together to act like a lighthouse, offering incredible views of the ocean below.
5. Suntory Museum in Osaka (1994)
One of Osaka city’s most striking buildings, although sadly now closed, the Suntory Museum Tempozan was an embodiment of Ando’s love of pushing the architectural boundaries while exploring one of his favorite themes, the meeting of man, water and architecture. Situated on the Osaka harbor, this art museum flowed effortlessly into the neighboring ocean, blurring the lines of where exactly man and nature meet.
Many of Japan's best museums blend art and nature into an incredibly enlightening and refreshing destination. Check out some of our other favorites here:
6. Tokyo Skytree (2009)
One of Tokyo’s most iconic structures, Tokyo Skytree is a multi-purpose building located in Sumida, right near the tourist hub of Asakusa. A restaurant, and broadcasting and observation tower, it is in fact the primary television and radio broadcast site for the Kanto area. The reason most people visit it is to marvel at it incredible architecture and to get a glimpse of the sprawling Tokyo cityscape below.
The design concept was based on neofuturistic ideals, meshing the traditional beauty of Japan, and the neighboring Asakusa, with the future of the city. Its exterior is meant to resemble a 5-story pagoda, while inside the structure there’s a spiral, glass-covered skywalk, giving guests a direct view of what’s below. Climbing this is the closest us mere humans can come to flying.
7. Chichu Art Museum (2004)
Overflowing with the most groundbreaking contemporary art museums you’ll find anywhere in the world, it’s also the unofficial island of Tadao Ando. He designed a number of buildings on the area, but arguably the most famous is the Chichu Art Museum.
Keeping the harmony between man and nature in mind, Ando built most of this museum underground to avoid impacting the naturally beautiful scenery of the Seto Inland Sea that borders the island. Keeping a very minimal aesthetic, the space is mainly built from concrete, providing the perfect low key (though still fascinating) backdrop to the works by James Turrell, Walter De Maria and Claude Monet that live inside.
What's your favorite Tadao Ando building? Let us know in the comments below!
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