Tadao Ando | Japan

Medal Awarded: 1985

Medal Jury 1985

Aarno Ruusuvuori, chair Finland
Jaakko Numminen, Finland
Juhani Pallasmaa, Finland
Kirmo Mikkola, Finland
Henning Larsen, Denmark
Roland Schweitzer, France

In 1985 Alvar Aalto Medal committee decided to grant the fifth Alvar Aalto Medal to Japanese architect Tadao Ando in recognition of his internationally significant work. “In the view of the committee, his ascetic but impressive architecture demonstrates the power of simplicity and concentration amid the spiritual confusion and style imitations of our time. Tadao Ando’s work clearly belongs within the sphere of modernism, but at the same time, in its simplicity, is part of the Japanese tradition.”

  • Rokko Housing / Japan, 1983

Tadao Ando (1941-

Tadao Ando is a self-taught architect, born in Osaka, Japan in 1941. He established his own practice in the city in 1968, and has not yet seen a need to move his operations to Tokyo. The firm, which began with residential and furniture design, has also designed churches, hospitals, educational institutions, terminals and many cultural buildings. Besides Japan, Ando has designed projects in Nepal, Taiwan, South Korea, Europe, the US and Mexico. His first project to be completed outside Japan was the country’s pavilion for the Seville Expo ‘92. Atypically, the pavilion was made of wood, though Ando is known for his concrete architecture.
In the 1960s, Ando made study trips to Europe and the US, familiarising himself with the works of Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. He first visited Finland in the ‘60s, arriving in Helsinki after crossing Siberia by train. In Aalto’s architecture, Ando was particularly impressed by his modernism based in visible regionalism and his inventive use of engineered wood. Ando hoped to return a corresponding use of and respect for particular local traits to Japanese contemporary architecture, which in his view was characterless.
As a first project, his award-winning Row House in Sumiyoshi, Osaka (1976), a small two-storey residential building, contained distinctive traits that later became established in Ando’s architecture: a closed concrete box shape and a complex but thought-out geometry and play of light and shadow in the space. The terraced Rokko Housing residential complex (1st phase 1983, 2nd phase 1993, 3rd phase 1999) exhibits Ando’s basic thoughts about empty space and solid walls or on the other hand the variation of light and shadow. Constructed in several phases on adjoining sloping plots in Kobe, the buildings are made up of dozens of individual residential modules of the same size.
In the view of the medal committee, Ando’s works by their nature form a logical continuum in which sensitively thought-out structures, broad exposed surfaces, finished textures as well as the use of space and light combine to achieve a pure, poetic atmosphere. Besides modernism and Japanese minimalism, the jury also saw the timelessness of classicism in Ando’s architecture building designs, which use basic geometric elements.
Ando has become known for his buildings’ precisely-considered integration with the surrounding nature and on the other hand how natural elements such as daylight and wind, for instance, are brought in as integral parts of their design.
Ando’s later completed building designs include the Church of the Light in Osaka (1989), the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, USA (2001), the Armani Teatro in Milan (2001), the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Texas (2002), the 21_21 Design Sight Museum in Tokyo (2007), the House in Utsubo Park, Osaka (2010), the House in Monterrey, Mexico (2011) and Château la Coste in France (2011). Since the early ‘90s, he has also actively participated in international design competitions.
Besides the Aalto Medal, Ando has received other honours including the Architectural Institute of Japan’s Annual Prize (1979), the French Academy of Architecture’s Gold Medal (1989), the Carlsberg Prize (1992), the Pritzker Prize (1995), the AIA Gold Medal (2002) and the UIA Gold Medal (2005). Ando has been a professor at the University of Tokyo since 1997 and a visiting professor at Yale, Columbia, UC Berkeley and Harvard.

© Alvar-Aalto Medal 2019