written by
Milan Habig

Tadao Andō, the Self-Taught Architect: Master of Concrete, Wood & Light

Architecture 3 min read

Unlike most Architects, Tadao Andō is entirely self-taught as he never formally studied architecture whatsoever. This is even more surprising because from 1987 to 1990, he taught at the Ivy League universities Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Later, in 1997, he was named a Professor at Tokyo University.

Swipe above to see his work

Tadao Andō is probably Japan’s most famous architect and the most unorthodox!

He was born in 1941, just four years before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Growing up during the war, he spent his early teen years working as a carpenter; this greatly influenced his work, as he mainly uses wood and concrete for his buildings.

He initially became passionate about architecture after picking up a book about Le Corbusier. His adoration for Le Corbusier’s work is very present to this day. Andō loved his work so much that he once picked up a stray dog and named him: “Le Corbusier.”

Later during his early adult years, he became a professional boxer for the sake of traveling and collecting as much as possible architectural input. After seeing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo by Frank Lloyd Wright, he quit boxing and put all his efforts into architecture.

Source: Tadao Ando Architect & Associates

Andō is a minimalist through and through. His work contains a lot of concrete, wood, and glass. But unlike many others, he manages to balance these materials with nature perfectly. His deep belief that architecture and nature are woven into each other is often visible. To quote the man in his own words:

"Humans must value nature, since they coexist with it."
Credit: Makomanai Takino Cemetery
Photographer: Roméo A. | Source: Unsplash

Often concrete buildings appear very cold, grey, and intimidating to the visitor. Not Andō’s. His buildings appear warm, flushed with light, and portray a welcoming atmosphere. His deep understanding of the way natural light can fall into a room and brighten it makes his buildings breathtaking from the outside as well as the inside. Andō himself calls his style or rather philosophy “pure geometry.” Often his buildings feature heavy concrete walls that contain no windows, as light falls into the building from above.

It is no surprise that even the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) did a solo exhibition in 1991 which featured Andō’s work. In 1995 he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is one of the highest honors an architect could possibly receive.

The 4x4 House in Japan was built in 2003 and is probably one of his most known works today. In essence, it is confined to a 4 m x 4 m area and consists of 3 floors. It is made of concrete and glass, its front faces the sea.

The 4x4 House II, built in 2004 (commissioned by the neighbor of the original 4x4 house), is made of wood and glass, a suggestion Andō made. The second house also features an elevator instead of a staircase.

Image courtesy of Area

Andō went as far as collaborating with legendary Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Tadao Andō (left) alongside Issey Miyake (right)

They worked together for the 21_21 Design Sight museum located in Roppongi, which was opened in 2007. The most impressive detail is probably the hand-sanded steel roof inspired by Miyake’s APOC line (A Piece of Cloth).

Photographer: Betty Bi | Source: Unsplash

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