“In architecture, it is not the final building that is important, but the process” -Tadao Ando

The documentary starts by showing an almost empty street in Osaka, Japan located outside the ‘Church of the Light’ that was designed by architect Tadao Ando before redirecting the scene to an empty hall inside the Church of the Light focusing on the cruciform punctured on the wall to permit the natural light inside. Right, then the camera shifts to show our man of the hour, Tadao Ando speaking about his design while being seated on one of the benches inside the church.

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The documentary shot in a minimalist style pays homage to the minimalistic style of architecture followed religiously by Tadao Ando. The 52-minute long documentary film embarks on a journey to describe the design processes and the works of the 1995 Pritzker Prize winner to the audience.

The film does not follow any particular order or timeline while presenting its visuals and narratives and keeps leaping back and forth but that does not hinder the filmmaker from telling us the story of the ‘Master of Minimalism’.

Tadao Ando describes his design processes behind 10 of his most appreciated architectural designs spread across three different countries, namely, The Church of the Light, Osaka, Japan (1989), Rokko Housing II, Kobe, Japan (1978), 4×4 House, Kobe, Japan (2003), Row House in Sumiyoshi, Osaka, Japan (1976), Museum Langen Foundation, Neuss, Germany (2004), Chapel of Water, Tomamu, Japan (1988), Museum Punta Della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2009), Invisible House, Treviso, Italy (2004), Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum, Osaka, Japan (2001) and Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan. The recipient of four most prestigious architectural prizes: the Pritzker, Carlsberg, Praemium Imperiale, and Kyoto Prize, the architect speaks of his intentions behind each of his designs, as the film showcases his design classics.

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The documentary also features appearances by, Peter Zumthor (Pritzker Prize Winner and Swiss Architect), Markus Brüderlin (the late art historian and the ex-director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg), Christiane Schneider (Art director of Langen Foundation Museum) and Alessandro Benetton (Owner of The Invisible House, Italian Businessman). They all speak about their impressions of Tadao Ando and the way he works.

In between the scenes about Tadao Ando’s design masterpieces, we get to see the cluttered and busy workplace of Tadao Ando, which provides a stark contrast to his simple and minimal designs. The documentary gives the audience a chance to accompany the ‘self-taught architect’ to his workplace and to witness him in his element. The audience can view the architect’s humble demeanor and the way he interacts with his employees and how they react to Ando’s instructions and comments about the design. Tadao Ando, shown, sketching and scribbling away to bring life to his ideas, makes sure his staff too, is on the same page as him.

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To give the audience a complete picture of how Ando worked, he is shown visiting a potential site in Bologna, Italy, that could house one of his buildings. There he is seen interacting with his clients, discussing his ideas, clicking photographs of the site, and analyzing the building site by touring the grounds.

He is not only familiar to professionals and students from the fields of art, architecture, and design but, even, to commoners from Japan. A fisherman caught the director’s eye while he was shooting around the 4×4 House in Kobe and the director asked him a few questions too. The fisherman said he knew the World-Famous architect who built big buildings in Middle Eastern countries like Bahrain. He also opined that, even though Tadao Ando designed small buildings as well, he was still a great architect and chided the filmmaker for not knowing Ando well enough but then, gave him a free pass as he is not Japanese.

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Ando also talks in detail about how he got pulled into the profession of architecture. He goes on to talk about his early days as a Boxing champion and its connection to his current profession of Architecture.

The film, further, shows him hosting seminars and interactive sessions for students and other followers of his work. We can see the emotions and excitement of his ardent admirers during his book signing event in Italy affirming his greatness as an architect. His book also shares the same title as this documentary.

The directorial debut of writer Mathias Frick is available with English and German subtitles, as the audio of the documentary continuously switches between the languages of Japanese, German and Italian to maintain the authenticity of the environment and cultures exhibited in the film. Soothing music by Christian Conrad adds on to the elegance of the designs by Tadao Ando.

The documentary, shot to appear as the first episode of a series named ‘BAKUNST’ that tells the stories of renowned architects around the world, was produced by a German production company.

Tadao Ando: From Emptiness to Infinity‘ is a simple film about the work-life of the architect. The film, much like the architect, does not present extra flourishes but is pleasing to the eyes and informative to the audience. The lingering visuals of the architecture, framed soothingly, with the cherry blossom trees and other Japanese landscaping features in the background, silently shows the architect’s appreciation for landscape design as well. The documentary is successful in capturing the essence behind Ando’s design and design processes which is to create an infinite design from emptiness. 

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Why should Architects and Designers watch this Documentary?

The documentary is a must-watch for all architects and designers as it gives an insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of an established and award-winning architect like Tadao Ando who not only teaches the art of meticulous designing but also, teaches us a lesson in humility.

The documentary premiered at the ‘A Design Film Festival’ in Bangkok in the year 2015. The documentary is available to be rented from the Amazon Online Store or the Magnet Films Channel on Vimeo.

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The Trailer of the Documentary: Tadao Ando: From Emptiness to Infinity –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeUkKIvGok8 


Gopika Gopan is an Interior Designer who believes every building has a story to tell and is on a mission to narrate as many stories as possible. She believes architecture is the mirror of society and, she hopes to make a change in the world with her words and designs.