Tadao Ando: ‘We need unbreakable passion to survive the unknown future’
My personal style signifier is a black jacket with a raised collar by Issey Miyake. Mr Miyake has a consistent philosophy that permeates his fashion, personality and lifestyle. His designs are not only masterful but embrace a productive sense of tension. I treat this apparel as my armour to enter the battlefield that is architecture.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Le Corbusier monograph, Oeuvre Complète Volume 6: 1952-1957. This edition highlights projects such as the beginning of Chandigarh and the completion of Notre-Dame du Haut – the Ronchamp chapel. As humans, we lose our speed and energy as our minds and bodies age. However, in his mid-40s, Le Corbusier developed most as an architect. His work accelerated in both production and innovation.
The place I can’t wait to return to is Paris. I look forward to visiting the Hôtel d’Angleterre as I’ve stayed there since the start of my career. And I long to walk around the Bourse de Commerce gallery, which I designed, now that it is opening. I’m excited to see the spectacular fresco restoration as well as artworks that have been specially commissioned for the space.
An indulgence I would never forgo is being able to live and walk on my own two feet. In the past 10 years, I have had two major surgeries to remove five of my organs, including my pancreas. I am so happy to be able to continue working.
The best book I’ve read this year is Botchan by Natsume Soseki, which in its beauty and depth is the origin of modern Japanese literature. I picked it up again this year for the first time in decades. It encapsulates the spirit of humanity, and like all great literature offers varying interpretations depending on what stage of life you are at when you read it.
In my fridge you’ll always find empty space. I have toast and English Breakfast tea first thing. After that there are a number of great restaurants in the Umeda area of Osaka, where I live. I like a simple udon from one of the bars near my studio. I’m not particularly picky, and while I am fine with any food, I do like to eat quickly and I prefer that it be healthy. I have coffee or tea with my lunch – I drink a few cups throughout the day – and I never drink alcohol.
The work of art that changed everything is the collective work produced by the Gutai Group of Japan. They were extraordinarily prolific artists in the mid-20th century and have been significant influences in my life. From them, I learned the importance of thinking about things radically from their origins, and about materiality.
I have a collection of fountain pens, many of which I have received as gifts over the years. I don’t necessarily have an interest in the act of collecting so much as I like designed objects to be simple, robust, and to balance cost, aesthetics and functionality. My favourite is a red Montblanc fountain pen designed by Marc Newson. An ingenious magnet mechanism allows the logo of the pen and the cap to perfectly align when it is closed. I also have what almost amounts to a collection of Ice-Watches in different colours. I rotate them depending on the day.
The best gift I’ve given recently was when I designed and funded the Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest, which opened last summer. I see this library as a gift from the adults to the children of Osaka.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a bottle of rosé from Château La Coste. It came from my client and friend, Paddy McKillen. Its pale amber colour seems to reflect the spirit of the architecture we collaborated on together. Whenever I see the bottle, I think back to the wonderful memories of working alongside him in the south of France and London.
The design that intrigues me the most is that hidden in anything we use habitually in our daily lives. A great master architect, Seiichi Shirai, once said he found beauty in the ordinary design, shape and colour of tofu, an everyday staple of the Japanese people.
My favourite view in the world is of cherry blossom trees lining the Dojima River in Nakanoshima, a large body of water running through the middle of Osaka. About 6,000 trees bloom in unison across a 7.5km-long stretch of river. This natural spectacle was created by extending the original tree-lined path of less than a kilometre. I launched a tree-planting initiative over 15 years ago to beautify the area. My hope was to create a new urban axis within Osaka utilising the power of nature. It is a pleasure to see the results of this work every spring.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a black raincoat from Mackintosh in London. I like how light and comfortable it is, and it works well for travel. £995
The last music I downloaded was a song that Bono recorded just for the Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest. He sang it beautifully, improvising the lyrics and the melody on the spot. I recently added it to my playlist, but it hasn’t been publicly released.
An object I would never part with is a typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass that I found some 50 years ago when I first started my practice. I had wanted it since my 20s, and in my 30s I was finally able to get my hands on one. This object is inextricably connected with my memories of my early career, when I was running headfirst into an unpredictable future.
My favourite room is my studio, which is near my house and where I spend most of my days. I feel most at home when I’m working. This quadruple-height space, which is filled with light and books, gives me great energy.
Right now, I’m planning a large national art museum in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I’m also working on a modest seaside gallery of less than 20sq m next to a provincial Japanese city. It invigorates me to simultaneously take on such wildly different projects.
A recent find is uncertainty. I’ve been thinking about how none of us has any idea what will unfold in the future. One year ago, I could not imagine that the world would change so much because of this pandemic. We need unbreakable passion to survive the unknown future.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a designer or a craftsman in another field. When I was younger, I got into the world of contemporary sculpture and product design, but I also remember having a passion for watching the carpenter’s daily progress renovating the wooden house I lived in. I think I was always going to be involved in the business of creating things.
My favourite architectural site is the skyline of Manhattan, one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. If I had to narrow it down even further, I would say the art deco skyscrapers, especially the Chrysler Building.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is the work of Pablo Picasso. He explored the malleable possibilities of formal expression and laid the foundation for the world of contemporary art. It would be wonderful to gather all his creations in a single place to see his comprehensive body of work.