4 x 4 House by Tadao Ando
The whole building represents a series of surprises, from the entrance, which is on the opposing facade, to the strange yet functional windows that adorn the otherwise somewhat bleak facades.
The entire composition is of course dependent on the small module size of 4 x 4 meters (13 x 13 feet) and relies on the glass cube that crowns it to define its distinctive character.
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The building moved the stairway from its axis so the four floors (and basement) would lead up to the two-story living space. This way, the stairwell, after leading up through the first two floors consisting of concrete (with the bathroom and bedroom, respectively), leads to the third floor with its generously glazed study and the top floor, a living space with views of the sea.
Ando has created a viewpoint that allows the gaze of anyone in the building to wander in just one direction — toward the sea — while the structure's walls become the frame of the picture. Over the expanse of the inland Seto Sea you can see the silhouette of the island of Awaji, epicenter of the disastrous earthquake of 1995 that inspired Ando's conclusion that building these houses on the edge of the beach could also serve as monumental monoliths or totems without any specific attribution.
The perspective here is dominated by the bold profile of the Akashi bridge, a famous feat of Japanese engineering and a source of considerable national pride. It is this landscape that the house faces — where the conflict between nature's violent outbursts and our modest conquests over nature's elements continues to play out — and it is this view that Ando requires all visitors to behold.
The Future of Contemporary Architecture
Commentary by Tadao Ando
It is universally recognized that these turbulent social times pose a range of questions that have to be addressed by our discipline. In a society that is increasingly digital and in which globalization is making breathtaking progress, the introduction of electronic technologies in design studies will provide on the one hand for the possibility of new architectural expressions. On the other hand, it may lead to a loss of authenticity.
Further, the natural resources of human life — and our planet — are being rapidly consumed, to the extent that the continued indiscriminate plundering by modern civilization is subverting our natural equilibrium.
However, the world of architecture, faced with these unprecedented issues, busies itself with the investigation of the merits and drawbacks of Modernism without determining the path that should be taken. In particular, the problem of our environment has reached such a dramatic pitch that profound reflection on the essence of contemporary architecture itself and the destiny of urban life is now a necessity. I maintain that architecture itself has a precise duty in its encounter with society to indicate a clear perspective with regard to these important topics.
Specific solutions to this ecological emergency include, over the short term, the development of a system of targeted controls to reduce the excessive use of fossil fuels and, in the long term, the adoption of measures directed to promote the overall longevity of buildings. It is not hard to imagine how, in the world of architecture, it would be possible to introduce a number of interesting technologies that would, above all, serve as solutions for the short term.
As an example, I can point to the development of technologies that provide excellent buffer performance in office building facades, but such measures, which depend on sophisticated components, cannot be the only response to the environmental question. ...
In the attempt to resolve our environmental problems, we should not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the admittedly numerous obstacles in our way. We have to instead consider the project as an opportunity to make architectural discoveries. Only free thinking and a flexible approach will make it possible to develop "eco-compatible buildings."
The environmental question is one that is inextricably linked with architectural expression. To demonstrate the character of a place through its construction, you want to first of all create a tenable architecture that is in harmony with the environment and that can coexist with nature.
In the Row House in Sumiyoshi, I proposed a style of life without air-conditioning and centered around a courtyard. At Shibuya Station, I insisted on interweaving the interior and exterior spaces. In their various treatments, my projects follow one fundamental ideal: to create an architecture that is both appropriate and at the same time unique.
It seemed to me that, faced with the difficult reality that this world presents to us, the people that operate in the world of architecture, and in particular the younger generation, are not really living up to all the challenges with the verve and honesty that is needed. Yes, for many reasons the "path" has become extraordinarily difficult. But we ourselves cannot hope to make progress in the future if we fear creativity and stay locked in our shell.
The courage to follow the dream of architectural styles that rise to these challenges is necessary, especially now, because we live in such difficult times. I intend to be at the forefront, to continue planning the architecture of the future.
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The author of Tadao Ando: 1995-2010, Francesco Dal Co, teaches architectural history at the University Institute of Architecture in Venice, and has taught at the Yale School of Architecture and the University of Lugano. He directed the architecture section of the Venice Biennale, is editor of the magazine Casabella, and has numerous publications to his name, including the book Tadao Ando: Complete Works, originally published in 1994.
Jean-Marie Martin writes about architecture for Casabella.
Distinguished Japanese architect Tadao Ando established his firm, Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, in Osaka in 1970. A self-taught architect, Ando has designed many notable buildings, including the Row House in Sumiyoshi (Azuma House) in Osaka; Church of the Light in Osaka; Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, Missouri; Armani Teatro in Milan, Italy; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; and 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo. Ando is a laureate of the Pritzker Prize, Praemium Imperiale, AIA Gold Medal, and UIA Gold Medal, among other awards, and he has been a visiting professor at Yale, Columbia, UC Berkeley, and Harvard.
This article is excerpted from Tadao Ando: 1995-2010 by Francesco Dal Co, translated by Miranda Denenberg and Jim Potter, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, Prestel.