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Monday 06 Jun 2011

Less is still better

Editorial by Tadao Ando
© World Architecture News 
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Michael Hammond chats to Tadao Ando 

This week, Japanese Icon, Tadao Ando dropped into London for a whistle-stop series of events. He was over for the commissioning of his new water feature at Mount Street, Mayfair, the opening of an exhibition of his work at nearby Hamiltons Gallery and, where I caught up with him, at his lecture at the Royal Academy, part of Kate Goodwin’s long running architecture series. The lecture was a sell out, all 450 seats being snapped up giving a clear indication of London’s interest in his unique brand of architecture.

No one can lay the blame of Japan’s terrible earthquake and Tsunami at the door of Global Warming or Climate Change as it’s now known, but the disaster and its aftermath is weighing heavily on Ando’s mind and he clearly sees it as a stark wake-up-call highlighting the planet’s fragility and a reminder of the awesome power that could be unleashed if the current carbon trend is not reversed.

He was particularly moved by the plight of the hundreds of orphans left in the Tsunami’s wake and has set up a charity dedicated to helping them get a good education. Even here, his innovative approach has been brought to bear; supporters of his fund have to commit to contributing for 10 years. “Why 10 years?” he offers, “So they don’t forget.” It’s a perfect example of how he believes sustainability should be approached in a holistic way, in all parts of life.

It quickly became obvious that many of the questions I had planned had been made irrelevant by the natural disaster. I asked him if his approach to architecture, to design had evolved his 40 years practising.

“After the huge natural disaster of the Tsunami, the essence of architecture, the bottom line now is to create environments that are safe for mental and physical health and that is common to every type of architecture, from Urban Planning to housing.

Housing is a representation of human beings, actually of life itself, because you have to eat there, sleep there. In this way, housing is the start of architecture. And that’s how I started out in architecture, with individual houses, then multiple residence buildings and now this has evolved into urban planning. So the bottom line hasn’t changed for me, I started off building something that was safe and sound for the residents.”

I asked about how he felt now that the world had ‘woken up’ to minimalism, and everyone was jumping on board the ship that Japan had pioneered: “Minimalism, it’s about creating a space. Regardless of whether it’s an older style or contemporary building and assuming it fulfils the basic needs (safe, comfortable and enjoyable) then I still believe that less is better.”

Ando reflects on the changes in his lifetime and projects these forward: “Forty years ago we had three billion, now it’s seven billion people on this earth which means we will have less energy per person, we will suffer shortages of resources and food, and architecture cannot be isolated from that basic trend, and that means we have to rethink our basic approach to architecture soon.

So of course sustainability will be the key issue for our planet to survive we need to put our wisdom together and really work hard. From that perspective, architecture has a great responsibility, and instead of our conventional way of architecture, creating some new design we should embrace this new challenge. We talk about renewable energy, solar power, wind power and such and we have to incorporate these, not in a single handed way, but in more complex, multiple ways, or we will not be able to sustain the 10 billion people that will be inhabiting this earth in forty years’ time.”

Click here to read an overview of Tadao Ando’s recent lecture at The Royal Academy.

Michael Hammond
Editor in Chief at WAN

Tadao Ando

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