The very first work as an established architect by Tadao Ando, the 1995 Pritzker Prize, is the former Tomishima House in Osaka, today called Atelier in Oyodo II, headquarter of his architectural studio. The project presents all the typical characteristics of Ando’s style and an admixture of modernism and tradition, which had always inspired the architect’s works.

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The Haiku Architect: Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando was born in 1941 in Osaka and raised by his great grandmother. He was a boxer but decided to give up his athletic career to pursue another ambitious project: becoming an architect. Despite his lack of education in the field, he managed to become a self-taught architect, by travelling and visiting the most important works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, going back to his country with a richer knowledge. He also attended night classes to learn technical drawing and interior design principles. In 1969, he founded his studio in Osaka, Tadao Ando Architects and Associates.

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Tadao Ando in his studio, Photograph credits to Photo Studio Casali, Archivi domus_©https://www.domusweb.it/it/progettisti/tadao-ando.html

Exposed concrete and clever use of light are the main features of Ando’s architecture, whose objective is to create a “haiku effect”: trying to accentuate nothingness and emptiness to represent the beauty of simplicity. His style is strongly influenced by Japanese culture and particularly by its religious aspect, even though, thanks to his experience in Europe and the US, influence by modernism is detectable. Francesco dal Co, Italian historian of architecture, defined Ando’s style as “critical regionalism”, that “is, in theory, a culture of building in which, while accepting the potentially liberative role of modernization, nonetheless resists being totally absorbed by the global imperatives of production and consumption.” (Frampton, 1986)

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Critical regionalism represents an attempt, typical of postmodernism, to give to a building a geographical and cultural connotation, in opposition to modernism’s idea of a lack of identity and belonging. A peculiar feature of his architecture concept is the will to give a symbolic meaning and aspect to everyday spaces.

From Tomishima House to Atelier Oyodo II 

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Reconstruction of Tomishima house, Axonometries, Photograph credits to Signe Pelne_©https://signepelne.wixsite.com/signepelne/tomishima-house

The project of Tomishima House was conceived in 1973 as a residential building in Oyodo neighbourhood, Osaka, for a young family, which though had to renounce the house because of a twin pregnancy, which made it unsuitable for them. This event was for the architect himself, a remarkable moment of his career, since, he stated, he “learnt from this experience that life does not always go according to plan.” (Griffiths, 2016) 

The house was positioned in a plot of 47 m2 developed in three storeys but was further developed until its final shape in 1991 when it became the headquarter of Ando’s Studio.

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Tomishima House, exterior, Photograph credits to Tadao Ando and Associates_©https://ofhouses.com/post/144331596578/307-tadao-ando-tomishima-house-oydo

The current building in comparison with the initial design is higher, composed of seven storeys instead of three, and with an extension in the adjacent plot. The two basement floors are destined for the junior staff. The arrangement of the interconnected volumes creates, from the inside, a continuous shift in the perspective. 

The seven floors are developed around a full-height central atrium, which allows light penetration through a top skylight. This atrium creates a unique space, which is sometimes used as a conference room. The inspiration for the internal structure derives from Piranesi “Carceri d’Invenzione”, engravings representing in the setting of a jail “ropes, traps and strings hanging, while the space is framed by a set of inarticulate stairs, beams, windows and passageways.” (WikiArquitectura, 2020) 

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Tomishima House skylight detail, Photograph credits to Tadao Ando and Associates_©https://ofhouses.com/post/144331596578/307-tadao-ando-tomishima-house-oydo

In fact, despite the geometrical simplicity of the building volumes, the interior is characterized by an intricate, tridimensional structure. The mainly used material is exposed concrete, exalted by the natural light entering from windows and skylight.

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In general, Tomishima house presents all the architectural and stylistic elements typical of Tadao Ando’s works. The simplicity of the volumes, especially perceivable from the exterior, is compensated with intricate internal structure: it is a usual feature of his projects the use of 3-dimensional complex connecting systems, made up of stairs and suspended corridors. 

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Reconstruction of Tomishima house, interior, Photograph credits to Signe Pelne_©https://signepelne.wixsite.com/signepelne/tomishima-house

Furthermore, a strong emphasis is given to natural light: in the architect’s mind, the emotions raised by architecture depend on how natural elements have been introduced in a project. More importance is given to the quality of the penetrating light, rather than on its quantity. The light also has the function of enhancing the smoothness of materials surfaces; another distinctive element of Ando’s architecture is the use of smooth exposed concrete, to maintain a symbolic simplicity, also underlined by the use of plain volumetric shapes

Atelier Oyoda II, interior, Photograph credits to Kaita Takemura_©https://thespaces.com/inside-concrete-atelier-japanese-architect-tadao-ando/

The project represents a beautiful example of Tadao Ando architecture: the material, the shape, the way it is internally structured, the use of light are all typical elements of the architect’s interpretation. His style is surely conditioned by his many abroad experiences, even if he maintained a strong bond with his country: the importance given to the sensation and the atmosphere created by his work, recall a Japanese conception of architecture. Despite having travelled around the world, he decided to establish his studio in his native city Osaka and inside a building designed by himself.

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References

Archiweb – ateliér v Oyodo ii. archiweb.cz. (n.d.). https://www.archiweb.cz/en/b/atelier-v-oyodo-ii[Accessed 04 September 2021].

Atelier in Oyodo ii. Architectuul. (n.d.). http://architectuul.com/architecture/atelier-in-oyodo-ii. [Accessed 04 September 2021].

Atelier IN OYODO – Data, photos & plans. WikiArquitectura. (2020, October 10). https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/atelier-in-oyodo/. [Accessed 04 September 2021].

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Griffiths, W. A. (2016, April 26). Tadao Ando: Japan’s master architect. magazine.com. http://www.port-magazine.com/architecture/tadao-ando-japans-master-architect/. . [Accessed 04 September 2021].

Inside tadao ando’s self-built studio in osaka. designboom. (2021, March 29). https://www.designboom.com/architecture/tadao-ando-osaka-studio-interior-interview-04-08-2016/. [Accessed 04 September 2021].

Inside the concrete atelier of Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Spaces. (2017, January 24). https://thespaces.com/inside-concrete-atelier-japanese-architect-tadao-ando/. [Accessed 04 September 2021].

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Ofhouses. (2016, May 14). : 307. Tadao Ando /// TOMISHIMA HOUSE /// OYDO,.. ofhouses. https://ofhouses.com/post/144331596578/307-tadao-ando-tomishima-house-oydo. [Accessed 04 September 2021].

Author

Francesca Colombo is a Master Architecture student in Italy. She considers architecture as a tool to face social problems and create better cities, accepting and celebrating people’s diversity. She dreams of living and working in a European capital.

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