Tadao Ando: a mastermind
Tadao Ando is a Japanese architect, born in Osaka (Japan) in 1941. Straightforwardly, we can confirm that Ando is one of the top league architects nowadays, after winning the Architectural Institute of Japan’s annual award (1979), the Alvar Aalto Award (1985), the Gold Medal of Architecture by the French Academy of Architecture (1989), the Pritzker Prize (1995), the Neutra Medal for Professional Excellence (2012) and the AIA Gold Medal (2002). What is fascinating to note here is that Ando is a self-taught architect. Inspired by the carpentry works during his teenage years, he grew up by becoming oriented and focused on critical regionalism.
Critical regionalism is a philosophy that points clearly at the immediate implications of the location, traditions, and the project’s direct context into the architecture itself.
Ando is known for playing with space and light throughout his spaces, especially enhanced by the “Ando Concrete” (consisting of the good equilibrium between sand, water, steel bars, and aggregate). Another factor is the usage of natural features to augment the qualities of a space. In fact, Ando states that [he doesn’t] “believe architecture has to speak too much. It should remain silent and let nature in the guise of sunlight and wind”.
Talking about the implication of nature on architecture and the respect of its original and direct context, we will develop the next one of his projects that reflects serenity and contemplation: The Hill of the Buddha.
The philosophy behind the Hill of the Buddha
The Hill of the Buddha is a Buddhist shrine located within the Takino Cemetery hill in Sapporo (Japan). The construction was completed in 2015 and covered a site of 180 hectares on a gentle slope. The land belongs to the cemetery of Makomanai. When we glance at it, we can observe the head of the Buddha statue and a large field of lavenders surrounding it. There are approximately 150 000 lavenders planted on the green carpet adjoining the center of the hill.
The project itself is an homage to multiple things at the same time. In fact, we have the obvious religious connotation of a temple or a place where visitors and believers can come and contemplate their deepest fears, quests, and others. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Ando wanted to bring homage to the serenity this place offers, both spiritually and physically. Still, he wanted to emphasize the Buddha statue that was constructed in 2002. The statue weighs around 1500 tons for a total height of 13.5 meters.
On the other hand, what strikes me the most about this project is how the passage of time influences the project’s image. As it is completely merging itself with nature, we can observe three different periods and facades. The vegetation provides a seasonal backdrop for the whole project, ranging from purple in summer, white in winter (since it snows), and green in spring. It is a whole range of color palette that reveals itself throughout the days, months, and years. Nature animates architecture and gives the visitor various tastes and interpretations.
According to a statement that Ando gave to Domus Magazine back in 2017, “this project aimed to build a prayer hall that would enhance the attractiveness of a stone Buddha sculpted 15 years ago. The site is a gently sloping hill on 180 hectares of lush land belonging to the cemetery”. For Ando and his client, this Hill of the Buddha’s goal was primarily to highlight the statue’s figure and put in advance its unrested face. The technique of seeing the head of the statue briefly out of the hill is characterized as the “head-out Buddha” by the architect.
Everything in this project is about architectural spatiality and sequencing. A concrete 40 meters length tunnel brings you to the feet of the Buddha statue. The corridor is composed of arched concrete elements that create a “womb” ambiance. The lighting is dimmed inside to give more attention to the Buddha, resting in the whole composition center.
When the visitors reach the opening, which is naturally lit by sunlight, all eyes are turned up towards the narrowed sky and the statue’s grandiosity. The sequencing between the entrance in a dark long zone to a more centrifuge area where the attention is redirected to the contemplation of serenity. It is as if a halo of the sky surrounds the Buddha.
At the base-end of the little mount, we can find a water garden. It is surrounded by a border made out of grey gravel and walls of high cast concrete.
Anticipation, excitement, and intrigue are what characterizes the journey before accessing the main central space. Indeed, as we said before, sneaking a look towards the head of the statue makes the visitor wonder what might be inside. The tunnel brings out a sensation of anticipation of feelings. However, once you reach the final destination you find yourself in the most resilient and peaceful place. It is an area where you have the complete mental freedom to contemplate any subject on your mind, to listen to the silence with patience and adoration.
You might be asking yourself: how does he do it? How does Tadao Ando bring out such strong emotions in his architecture? Well, it is simple. Nothing is more connected to humans than nature. When you succeed at achieving the right and correct symbiosis between the vegetation, the surroundings, the topography of the land, but also the sun, the moon, the sky; you succeed at creating a spiritual and psychological effect on people—a connection.