By Mutsumi Morita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer The Church of the Light, which was built in 1989 in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, is one of the best-known works of Tadao Ando. Visitors to the current exhibition on the globally renowned architect at The National Art Center, Tokyo, now have a chance to appreciate the masterpiece through a life-size reproduction.
A cross-shaped slit in one of the walls of the replica, measuring about 6 meters wide, 18 meters deep and 7 meters tall, allows light to penetrate through, creating a solemn atmosphere.
Visits to the church are restricted because of its function as a religious facility.
“I wanted as many people as possible to get firsthand experience [of the church],” the 76-year-old architect said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. The replica is one of the highlights at the exhibition “Tadao Ando: Endeavors” at the museum in Roppongi, Tokyo.
One of his biggest ever, the exhibition reviews Ando’s career, which spans almost half a century. During that time he has worked on a wide variety of buildings, from residences to churches and museums. About 270 items are on display, including models, drawings and videos.
Ando set up his own architectural office in 1969. Prior to that, a young Ando traveled both at home and abroad, visiting various buildings such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum — designed by Kenzo Tange — the Parthenon in Greece and Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, a chapel in Ronchamp, France.
Ando said he was able to learn the ideas of past architects when he placed himself inside the actual buildings they designed. These visits convinced him that “architecture is something you experience,” he said.
Another section of the exhibition features Ando’s 22 residence projects — including his signature work in the early years of his career, Row House in Sumiyoshi, built in 1976 in the city of Osaka — through models, photographs and other items.
Ando described working on residences as a “big challenge.”
“It’s difficult because you must deal with people dwelling [in them], which is a fundamental act for human beings,” he said. Housing projects interest him because he can often interact with residents and construction workers, Ando added.
In recent years, Ando has also worked on projects to renovate historical buildings, including the Punta della Dogana in Venice, an art museum that was originally used as a customs office and built in the 15th century. A concrete box was inserted inside the building to create an exhibition space.
Ando is currently working on the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, a former grain exchange that is being renovated into a museum. The architect envisioned an exhibition space by inserting a 30-meter-wide concrete cylinder into the 70-meter-wide dome of the building, as if creating a nesting structure.
Renovation does not mean restoring a building to what it used to be, according to Ando. It should mean introducing new elements to bring about a collision between old and new spaces and create a contemporary building that leads to the future, he said.
This stance dates back to 1989, when he released a proposal for a renovation project for the Nakanoshima Public Hall in Osaka. For that building, he presented the idea of setting up a new egg-shaped hall inside.
I asked Ando, the source of numerous innovative ideas, what type of architect he wants to be. In his answer, he referred to the late Minoru Murayama, an excellent pitcher for the Hanshin Tigers.
“He gave his all to his pitching, from the first inning until leaving the mound, and many fans still remember him today for that,” Ando said. “I’m also keeping an eye on how long I can continue to work to the limit. I’ll quit if I can’t do that.”
The architect underwent cancer operations in 2009 and 2014. “I have to eat slowly under the advice of my doctor. But other than that, the speed of my everyday life remains unchanged.”
Ando is still working on about 50 projects, traveling at home and abroad and giving lectures. He announced in September that he will build a children’s library in Osaka’s Nakanoshima district and donate it to the municipal government.
The master will not stop pitching at full speed anytime soon.