Internationally acclaimed architect's new art museum to exhibit his works

Japanese architect Tadao Ando is designing a museum in Shanghai with a bookstore that is set to become the newest landmark in Minhang District. 

Ti Gong

Japanese architect Tadao Ando in Shanghai

One of the world's greatest living architects, 76-year-old Tadao Ando started off as a truck driver, a boxer and also a carpenter. He eventually went on to design daring, jaw-dropping architecture combining Japanese minimalism with the best of modernism.

Ando won the Pritzker Prize in 1995, the highest accolade in the architecture world. Celebrities often look to him to design their houses, among them Steve Jobs, who even invited Ando over and cooked a meal for him after his house was ready.

The Japanese architect was recently in Shanghai to speak on his works and philosophy. A crowd of almost 10,000 people thronged the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the Pudong New Area. 

Ando is now working on a “concrete” art venue for his fans in Shanghai.

The 4,000-square-meter egg-shaped facility, called the Space of Light, will serve as an art museum-cum-bookstore. It is expected to become the newest cultural landmark in Minhang District when it opens in December. 

Ti Gong

An artist's rendition of the Space of Light

Light, which is an important element of Ando’s works, is also an important feature of this project. A retrospective exhibition titled “Tadao Ando: Leading” will be unveiled at the art space, featuring models of his creations, videos, manuscripts and related materials of the masterpieces he has created. 

The highlight of the exhibition will be a site model of Naoshima, an island with no more than 4,000 residents in Seto Inner Sea. Ando spent nearly 30 years on a series of buildings there, ranging from Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum to Benesse House and Benesse Art Site, and transformed the island into what the Traveller magazine described as “one of the Seven Most Worth Visiting Cultural Scenic Spots in the World.”

Every successful person has reasons for their success, Ando said while he's in Shanghai. 

As a child, he worked with artisans and wood workers. He became a boxer at the age of 17, and during a trip to Bangkok for a bout he was fascinated by the Buddhist temples. He quit the ring and started working as a carpenter.

Ando attended Semi Mode, which is similar to an art school, but he had no formal training in architecture. He taught himself by reading and traveling extensively from 1962 to 1969 in Europe, the United States and Africa, where he studied various buildings. 

Ando never got to apprentice with any architect because, as he says, he was always fired for his “stubbornness and temper.” But he says he was fascinated by the works of architect, designer and urbanist Le Corbusier (1887-1965), who was a pioneer in modern architecture. In 1969, he founded Tadao Ando Architect & Associates in Osaka.

Ando is best known for culturally and climatically specific works using cast-in-place concrete, notably Buddhist temples, churches, museums and cultural facilities.

French designer Philippe Starck has called Ando “a mystic in a country that is no longer mystic.”

“I think that architecture is not about making buildings but about creating space. I am always trying to reduce all the material elements as much as possible so the space itself can become rich and stimulating,” Ando says.

So far, Ando has designed three buildings in Shanghai ─ the Aurora Museum, the Poly Grand Theater and the Shanghai International Design Center.

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Shanghai Poly Grand Theater

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The Aurora Museum in Shanghai

Q: This art museum (in Minhang) is inside a commercial complex. So what is the relationship between commerce and art?

A: Frankly speaking, they are almost the same in nature. A commercial venue also needs the ultimate visual effect to attract people.

Q: Please use three words to describe the Space of Light.

A: I would like the visitors to have their own experience there. Like music, architecture can’t be guided by other people.

Q: What is your expectation on this venue?

A: I believe that the space itself will go directly into the heart of some visitors who will find joy there. This will be a place filled with hope and cultural power.

Q: What does architecture mean to you?

A: That’s my way of understanding the society. Culture is different from economy and politics. I hope to “level up” culture through my work. 

The interesting part of design lies in its creativity. On one hand, the designer has to drift with the tide, while on the other hand he must express his own creativity. Inevitably, there will be conflict between the two.

Q: What is your impression about Shanghai?

A: Shanghai has a wide range of buildings, from the post 19th century to modern day. I have many projects around the world, but I’m still amazed at Shanghai's speed in its width and depth.

Q: What is your understanding of an art museum?

A: A heaven to escape the hustle and bustle, where an exhausted heart can relax and be soothed.

Q: Light, especially natural light, is an important element in your buildings. Why?

A: Light is the origin of all being ... The creation of space in architecture is simply the condensation and purification of the power of light. In my work, light is always a critical element to dramatize the whole space, because light enables the creation of unexpected visual effects.

Q: There will be bookstore in the new art museum. What’s your idea about reading?

A: Today, reading seems to be drifting away from our lives. However, it greatly changes a person and even inspires him/her. Reading evokes curiosity, the expectation toward the unknown. Now we spend too much time looking at the mobile phones. I hope people would save half of their time from their mobile gadgets to read paper books.



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