Asian Architects In Dilemma Cultural Studies Essay

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Today, architecture in Asia is facing a dilemma. Works by renowned architects from North America and Europe, with the likes of Koolhaas, Pelli, Hadid, Holl and numerous large architectural firms have effectively put Asian cities on the architectural map. Likewise the bulk of domestic architects remains commercial-oriented and maps their conventional buildings with attention-grabbing façades in order to make them desirable for the Asian nouveau riche.

In India, architect Balkrishna V.Doshi (1985: 112) complained about the trauma Indian societies have undergone over the last two centuries and its affect on architecture. It began with the massive import of colonial architects, then the destruction of small-scale home-based crafts which affected the nature of the social pattern. Later in post-independence India, emphasis was placed on industrialisation, the advent of new building materials, and a desire to 'modernise' gave rise to disarray patterns of building and community-city planning.

As metropolitan cities in all across Asia are expanding, the physical environment remains desolate and lacking in green spaces. From Jakarta to Shanghai, city centres are bloated with skyscrapers buildings surrounded by slums, and a considerable and growing population below subsistence level while natural resources depletes and pollution increases.

In China, architect Wang Shu lamented that the designs of the buildings there over the past twenty years "were neither conceived on the basis of the climate, nor social needs, nor life-style, nor did they incorporate the attributes of the process mentioned earlier" (Denison, 2012:32). The consequence, he argued, was an increased use of resources, of energy and subsequent degradation of the environment.

Across the vast continent, institutional practitioners who have never been required to produce readably differentiated objects could not cope with the fast economic growth in terms of establishing a distinct or meaningful approach to architecture. Their designs are often literal adaptation of stylised stupa, awkward minarets, or sublimated ideas from the communist 'modernist' past [figure 1,2,3]. These works are then marketed as 'a blend of Western and Eastern characteristics', while meanwhile predominantly fail to be responsive to their natural environment, local customs, and the built heritage of particular places or regions.

Yet amidst this mad-rush to construct, a remarkable group of architects from the region work quietly to offer an alternative response to this phenomenon. Ozkan (1985) described their approach as 'abstract regionalism': abstracting elements from the past in order to derive building form. However, he argued that abstract regionalism as 'a very difficult and fine aesthetic to follow', while positing it as "the line of practice which separates a solemn, praiseworthy, regionalist achievement from a worthless pastiche or a pot-pourri of the past ... (and the line) is very thin and delicate". (Ozkan, 1985: 108)

One can observe that these architects' abstractive approaches most often incorporate the abstract qualities of a building, for example, massing, solids and void, proportions, sense of space, use of light, structural principles in their reinterpreted form. They endeavour to focus on the existence cultural issues and define them in terms of design elements the prevalent culture of the region concerned.

Examples of the practice of 'abstract regionalism' as described by Ozkan can be found during a recent symposium entitled 'Sustaining Identity', organised by Victoria and Albert Museum London in November 2012. In the event, a host of architects from Asia were invited to speak. The list included architects from China: Wang Shu, Li Xiaodong, and Kongjian Yu; and from India Bijoy Jain. Alongside with their counterparts, Europe's Juhani Pallasmaa and Africa's Francis Kéré, their works were lauded by the symposium organisers as 'resistance to homogenisation by prioritising place, the senses and memory.' (V&A Museum, 2012)

* * *

The architectural scene in 1970s and 80s Japan, in many ways is similar to the rest of the continent today.


Japan's economy underwent spectacular growth in the decades following WWII. Deregulation of bank interest rates threw the nation into overdrive. The nation was buying up vast quantities of expensive international real estates, taking control of shares in global corporations while hanging canonical works of Western art in private Tokyo boardrooms (Daniell, 2008:12). The same case for today's China and India, the world responded with a mixture of admiration and hostility, fear and fascination.

Like today's Shanghai or Dubai, Tokyo and Osaka in the 1980s were able to support an unprecedented quantity of innovative (if indulgent) architecture. Not only did the bubble period incubate Japan's talented young architects, it offered the Western avant-garde commissions to build in Japan on the most generous terms imaginable. They even generated their own epithet: 'bubbly' most famously used by Arata Isozaki with regard to Rafael Vivoly's spectacular Tokyo International Forum commissioned at the height of the bubble. (Daniell, 2008:14) [Figure 4]

[Figure 5] One of the many 'quirky' architecture built during the 1980s Japanese asset price bubble. Asahi Beer Building, Asakusa district, Tokyo, by renown product designer Philippe Starck, 1989.

[Figure 6] Imperial Household Agency Building, constructed in 1935 by Takenaka Corporation in a modernist style, with obvious Japanese architectural references such as the large, gabled hipped roof.

This bubble period is further characterised by quick imitation of indistinct "international style" or - much worse - "Disneyfication" of Japanese cities littered with out-of-place, or downright quirky, architecture [figure 5]. Japanese architects were lost in translating Western aesthetic forms for a Japanese public. Attempts to be creative were easily blurred by sublimated ideas from pre-WWII period. Likewise attempts to be traditional remains most often restricted to the production of experimental skyscrapers with "cut-outs" and occasional pagoda roofs [figure 6]. Many Japanese architects of that period struggle to establish an identity for themselves in an increasingly homogeneous world (Isozaki, 2011:35)

Meanwhile, the same struggle is evident at the beginning of Tadao Ando's career. Just like many young architects across Asia today, he struggled to reconcile aspects of modern construction with aspects of local (and in Ando's case, Japanese) tradition.

2. Architectural Identity, Modernism, and Critical Regionalism

"We can easily now conceive of a time when there will be only one culture and one civilization on the entire surface of the earth. I don't believe this will happen, because there are contradictory tendencies always at work - on the one hand towards homogenization and on the other towards new distinctions."

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1978: 20)

Architectural Identity

Humanity, throughout most of history, constantly yearns for a sense of attachment to geographical regions they belong to. This affinity leads to an ideal that any region which one belong to should has its own special character to distinguish it from other places. 'Identity' is the word most commonly used. 'Regional identities', or 'regionalism', as an architectural concept, has been manifested during the times of Romans. This is evident when regional variations are extensively discussed in Vitruvius' last century B.C. treaties 'De Architectura' (Ten Books on Architecture). The Romantics further propound picturesque regionalism during the 19th and early 20th century. (Nesbitt 1996: 486)

However, apart from the above examples, regional identities often occur without conscious endeavour prior to the fifteenth century. Watson (2007:5) argues that this is mainly due to the vernacular processes through which most buildings were produced. Also, the fact that transport limitations ensured most buildings had to be constructed from locally sourced materials; whilst limited understandings of structural principles and constructional techniques restricted the range of building types in any particular place.

As times evolves, through the invention of the printing press in fifteenth century, architectural ideas were spread through the increased availability of design cannons and books, and by growing number of architects who themselves now found it practicable to work across wider geographical areas (Watson, 2007:5). By the middle of the nineteenth century, in the industrialising parts of the world, relatively cheap transportation meant that building materials, for instance, could be drawn from larger range of sources. It can be argued that the drive of colonisation, particularly from the empires in Western Europe, further facilitates the exchange of architectural styles and construction technology all across the world.

Modernism and Regionalism

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, modernism, through its sub-theme of internationalism, proclaimed universality and worldwide application of certain values or architecture (Pallasmaa 1988:129). The dawn of the industrial age, the globalising effects of western-driven colonisation followed by the massive reconstruction in post-world-war periods means that regional building activities are almost discarded.

The schools of architecture, the building industry, and popular taste all united in the reinforcement of internationalism until it became an ideology representing the aspirations of many sectors of modern societies across the world. Internationalism in style became synonymous with the representation of 'contemporaneity' (Ozkan, 1985:109).

Subsequently, a main critical movement arose as a reaction specifically to internationalism, or implicitly to modernism. 'Regionalism', or 'regionalist approach', recognises the vernacular modes of building at the one extreme, and 'abstract regionalism' as propounded by Ozkan (1985), at the other. Even though it covers a wide variety of subthemes, regionalism has respect to local culture, to climate, and at times technology, at its core.

Critical Regionalism

In their 1981 article "The Grid and the Pathway," Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre coined the 'critical regionalism' as another strand of 'regionalist approach', and furthermore, as a 'critical response' to modernism in architecture.

In the context of architecture in Greece, they defined the term 'critical regionalism' as the third and latest type of regionalism, following the English picturesque of "nationalist regionalism," and the Neoclassical "historicist regionalism." They further argued that modern architecture is impersonal and monolithic, destroying the humanistic qualities in architectural expression which would be reinstated by a new form of regionalism. (Tzonis & Lefaivre, 1981)

Critical Regionalists make a plea for a critical identity arguing that architects should critically consider the use, the potentiality of the place (including cultural and political backgrounds) as well as the use of products of globalisation (including new technologies and new materials). They speak about an identity with reference to continuation and change

At that frontline leading the charge for critical regionalism is architectural theorist Kenneth Frampton. In his 1983 seminal essay 'Towards a Critical Regionalism', he highlights its critical nature against placeless monotony and further embeds the concept with a higher sense of urgency.

Critical regionalism and Japan

This resistance, one could argue, is also apparent in 1980s Japan in the midst of an economic boom. There exists a typified reaction against universal standards, western culture homogenisation and placeless modernism. Also, that this reaction is critical in its outlook not only the world but also to itself.

Although the Japanese had developed doctrines relatively early that emphasised the necessity of space essence, ma, and Western functionality and aimed, at least sporadically, at a reconciliation of Japanese and Western elements in architecture, regionalism has never been established as a critical architectural movement (Isozaki, 2011: 131).

The 'criticalness' as expounded by scholars mentioned earlier is relatively absent in the island due to its unique and isolated history, which differs drastically from the West. This is evident in the tension that Ando perceives as obtaining between the process of universal modernisation and the eccentricity of rooted culture. Thus we find Ando writing:

Born and bred in Japan, I do my architectural work here. And I suppose it would be possible to say that the method I have selected is to apply the vocabulary and techniques developed by an open, universalist (…) But meantime it is challenging to me to attempt to express the sensibilities, customs, aesthetic awareness, unique culture, and social traditions of a given race (Japanese) by means of an open, internationalist vocabulary of Modernism.

(Ando, 1982:20)

Furthermore, Peter Eisenman argues there is no tradition of 'resistance' in Asia. Hence, he claims, architecture in Asia have always been, in principle, conservative and accommodating (Eisenman, 1995). The formation of a critical consciousness among European architects, attributed to the critical thinking in late 18th century Europe expounded by Kant, is relatively absent in Asia

It seems that what is being presented as a single idea, "critical regionalism," is in fact two separate ideas. But the problem goes deeper, because the second interpretation of "critical" actually appears to contradict the first. It draws attention to the fact that the postulated organic world of regional artifacts no longer exists. Far from resisting the appropriations of rationalization, it confirms them by suggesting that all that remains of an original, unitary body of regional architecture are shards, fragments, bits, and pieces that have been torn from their original context. Taking this view, any attempt to retrieve the original contents in all their original wholeness would result only in a sort of kitsch.

Furthermore, as architectural historian Anthony King has warned, "these global theories . . . enable those who produce or adopt them to view the world of others from one particular place, from one point of authority, from one particular social and cultural position. They produce a totalizing vision or overview which is likely to be at odds with the meanings which the inhabitants . . . place on the buildings themselves. In looking for ways in which to think about buildings 'internationally' we need to be sure that we're not creating a new intellectual imperialism." (King, 2004: 15)

One can perhaps conclude, that despite the best intentions of its leading theorists, 'critical regionalism' too often came to function as a fashionable formula, as a catchphrase to describe a range of difficult and diverse architectures arising from markedly different circumstances in different context. This is more so in the continent of Asia which generally lacks solid post-war architectural discourses, compared to Europe and America. Thus one can argue that a label as sophisticated as 'critical regionalism' may run risk of devolving into superficial and misleading mechanism.

3. Japan and Tadao Ando

Continuing on the preceding chapter, Tadao Ando's works are situated within this backdrop of a newly defined focus on regionalism. This chapter examines the reasons why Ando is seen by some as a reaction to the authority of modernism and the imitating scenography of postmodernism in Japan of 1970s, which also marks the beginning of his career as an architect. It then looks back into Ando's autodidact architectural education background and how it sets him apart from his contemporaries.

Japan in the 1970s

Ando's career began in the 1970s, and Japan at that time was a rising economic power. It has been thirty years since the end of World War II, and the journey that led to its successes has been long and arduous. Earlier effort of industrialisation and modernisation, which it pursued rigorously since the Meiji era up to the war, were almost completely destroyed. (Allinson, 1999:95)

As the United States instilled democratic systems onto Japan after the war, dramatic social changes were set in motion: the abolition of the landlord system and nobility, the reform of farming and agricultural land ownership, and the disbanding of the military among others. Allinson (1999:95) argues that this was a social revolution 'even more dramatic than the French or Russian Revolution'. The Japanese wartime slogan of 'Beastly Americans and British' was abandoned overnight as western culture was received with great fervour. In particular, the American lifestyle depicted in Hollywood films seemed like a shining dream come true to Japanese of the time (Allinson, 1999:96).

However, it must be noted that Japan's receptiveness of foreign cultures, and in particular the cultures of empires, has historically been a long-standing practice. For more than a thousand years, Japan has lived with awareness of neighbouring China and Korea, and later in the empires of Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, and England. In comparison to these neighbours and empires, Japan is small and isolated. The only way it could maintain its sovereignty was to make continual attempts to absorb foreign cultures, to study them, and while establishing friendly relations with the larger nations to preserve its own identity (Kurokawa, 1993:20).

Subsequently, during the reign of Emperor Meiji at the end of nineteenth century, the Modern Movement, which began in Europe, quickly influenced Japan. The Secessionists and Bauhaus Movement were introduced to Japan, led by several architects with the likes of Kur Maekawa, Junzo Sakakura, Takamasa Yoshizaka, who worked as disciples to Le Corbusier and Arata Endo to Frank Lloyd Wright. [figure 7]

This receptiveness to Western culture continued after the war, increasing in strength through the care of architects Kenzo Tange and Arata Isozaki. However, it did not last long. Kurokawa (1993:13) suggested that Isozaki and Tange's works may have belong to the last generation of architects receptive to the West. The St Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo [figure 8], completed by Tange in 1964 has been the subject of much controversy due to the immense scale the parabolic forms it imposes on a tight urban fabric. Nevertheless, it is described as one of the last outstanding modernist works in Japan right before the arrival of the 'new wave architects' (Kurokawa, 1993:14)

Tadao Ando the Self-taught Architect

Japan's New Wave Architects and Tadao Ando

Putting Ando's architectural upbringing into context, the 1960s was a time of posturing and polarisation among architects across Japan. The critics of Modernism were gaining ground and momentum. In Japan and also western architectural scene, modern masters retire, making way to new breed of artists.

It was within this avant-garde context that the 'New Wave' Japanese architects were announced to the world. The works of seven young architects, including Ando, was exhibited in a 1978 exhibition tour in United States organised by the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies [figure 1,2,3]. The exhibition's curator, Arata Isozaki, provided a provocative foreword. In it he suggests that "Japanesque" traditional placemaking and avant garde geometries may be compatible (Bognar, 1985).

[Figure 9] 1978 'A New Wave of Japanese Architecture' Exhibition catalogue cover

According to Kurokawa, in his book 'New Wave Japanese Architecture' written later in 1993 as a reflection of the movement, the trajectory of these young architects was different from that of their Western counterparts. Worth highlighting is that unlike their Western counterpart, whose rejection of the Modern Movement came from exploring it to its absolute limits, Kurokawa argued that the Japanese had never "understood" Modernism in similar way (Kurokawa, 1993:16). Instead, the young Japanese architects developed a set of critiques based on historical imperatives, deconstructionism, ecological theories, self-building among other concept.

Ando, writing about the exhibition later in 1998, argued that 'the failure as a universal language meant that it never established itself as a deeply rooted principle in our country; it hadn't really become something to rebel against.' (Ando, 1998:10)

Even though each of these lines of enquiry had already been tried and tested from the 1960s onwards, the works from the 'New Wave', and especially Ando's, carried a special charge. Kurokawa described his works as 'play(ing) with the old boundaries and ready for new departures'. Together they were radical, yet they kept distance from 'postmodernism' that became fashionable in Japan then, and from those critics who 'opposed a social system based on the Modernist doctrine'. (Kurokawa, 1993:21)

Too sum it up, Ando and his contemporaries were making clear their distaste for labels such as 'modernism' and 'postmodernism', often in dramatic fashion. This was the beginning of Ando's career, and he was seeking to develop his architecture around its very origins. He mentioned that this could be a result of being self-taught and from having received no formal academic training as such. "It was during my formative years, outside the institutional channels, that I became focused on 'direct vision' as the essential element for a work of architecture, rather than entrusting myself to abstract notions of a technical and theoretical nature" (Ando, 1998:8)

Tadao Ando a Critical Regionalist

In a 1984 essay, in his essay 'Tadao's Ando's Critical Modernism', Kenneth Frampton celebrated Tadao Ando as a critical regionalist, and uses the label to discuss Ando's architecture. This recognition placed Tadao Ando on the forefront of architecture discourses on Japanese and Asian architecture of the times.

The argument that posits Ando as a critical regionalist lies in this very statement by Frampton (1995:12), in which Ando is described as "at once both an unequivocally modern architect and a figure whose values lie embedded in some archaic moment". In the same text, he further argued that Ando is "committed to some other time before the machinations of progress has turned into an every present nemesis."

Furthermore, Ando is critically opposed both of the chaotic Japanese urban context during the post-war decades, and reproduction traditional Japanese physical elements which were pandemic then. In his work one rarely finds these traits.

4. Japan and Wabi-sabi

In the region of Kansai during the 16th century, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his protégé, tea master Sen No Rikyu, laid the foundation for the discipline of wabi-sabi: a strict adherence to the virtues of simplicity, poverty and modesty, in direct resistance to the unrefined pretention of wealth. It also reflects the dissatisfaction with institutional power and resistance to tyranny.

Osaka, Kansai's regional capital, is Tadao Ando's native city. Thus, by birth and inclination, it is no coincidence that he belongs to wabi-sabi aesthetic which is still alive today, as do many of his clients.

This study hence asserts, for the first time, that the fundamental key to understanding Ando's capacity for abstract regionalism must be found in Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi. To build a case for the hypothesis, this forth chapter shall provide a broad overview of wabi-sabi, its origins and influence since the past till the present.

Wabi-sabi: A Japanese Aesthetics

"Japanese art is to be understood not only as aesthetic art, if we may so put it, but also as a comprehensive attitude to life embracing the entire life of soul and spirit. In Japan this is designated as 'artless art,' by which is meant the art of the soul which far transcends mere artistic skill ... Art in the Japanese sense is the endeavour to carry over into ordinary existence the infinitely deep, inexpressible, and unknowable ground of living.."

- Toshimitsu Hasumi (1962:4)

In the Western world, aesthetics is considered to be the branch of philosophy that is concerned with concepts of value and beauty as they relate to the arts. However, objects from other cultures that are categorised as art works from the Western perspective may or may not hold the same meaning in their culture of origin. Hence because of possible differences in world views and aesthetic stances of non-Western cultures, it is important to set aside Western aesthetics as criteria when making judgments about non-Western art. For instances, many non-Western cultures recognise no distinction between fine art and craft, may not even have a word for 'art'. The Japanese word that best approximates the meaning of 'art' is katachi. Katachi translates to mean 'form and design,' seemingly implying that art is synonymous with living, functional purpose, and spiritual simplicity. (Hasumi, 1962:45)

Hence, to understand the art and aesthetics in Asia, and specifically of Japan for this study, it is necessary to investigate a Japanese world view, ideas about the nature of art, and influences brought about through contact with other cultures. The aesthetics of Japan developed in a unique fashion, partly because of its isolated geographic location. (Bognar, 1985 : 34)

During these long periods of self-imposed isolation, art forms and aesthetic ideas developed which were specifically Japanese (De Mente. 2006: 57). Over the centuries, when interactions with foreign cultures occurred, they influenced the traditional arts and aesthetics of Japan. It is worth noting that the Japanese made no distinction between fine arts and crafts prior to the introduction of such ideas by Europeans in the 1870s.

The primary aesthetic concept at the heart of traditional Japanese culture stands out for being unconventional from a western perspective. It is a celebration of qualities commonly regarded as 'falling short of', or 'deteriorating from the optimal condition of the object' (De Mente, 2006). While such works may appear somewhat homely and rough, at the same time they impart a sense of elegance and tranquillity, a kind of 'unsophisticated sophistication', like 'the moon obscured by clouds'(Koren, 1994). This study will refer to this Japanese aesthetics of the imperfection and insufficiency as wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi: A Context

Wabi is derived from the verb wabu (to deteriorate) and the adjective wabishii (solitary, comfortless). The essence of wabi has been described as nonattachment and subtle profundity (De Mente, 2006:45). The nonattachment essence of a wabi is part of the Zen School of Buddhism that teaches detachment from all material things and the ability to experience the essence of things (Koren, 1994:12). On the other hand, the original meaning of sabi is 'rust' or 'patina', but it also connotes loneliness and desolation as reflected in the adjective sabishii (lonely), particularly with reference to old age (1994:13).

Californian architect Leonard Koren, in his book 'Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers' primarily suggests wabi-sabi as 'the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty' (1994: 21), comparing its importance in Japanese aesthetics to the 'Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West'.

However, it is important to understand the origin of Koren's perspective. He admitted: 'Wabi-sabi resolved my artistic dilemma about how to create beautiful things without getting caught up in the dispiriting materialism that usually surrounds such creative acts … wabi-sabi appeared the perfect antidote to the pervasively slick, saccharine, corporate style of beauty that I felt was desensitising American society.' (Koren, 1994: 56)

It can be argued that Koren sees wabi-sabi as a criticism to modernism. His notes reveal a perspective of an outsider, a critique of modern production methods and the qualities of finish they favour: 'Things in process, like buildings under construction, are often more imagistic than the finished thing itself. Poetic irregularity and variability are difficult to mass produce however.'

Thus, the essence of wabi is probably better captured in the words Sen-no-Rikyu: 'never forget the Way of Tea is nothing more than boiling water, making tea and drinking tea' and 'the tea ceremony conducted in the smallest of spaces serves primarily the practice of meditation and its goal is enlightenment.'

Wabi-sabi and Tea Ceremony

Viewed from the outside the tea arbour of the Wabi Way of Tea seems like a humble hermit's hut, but one nevertheless senses that everything in it has been carefully designed. Crawling through the official entrance, the nijiri-guchi, a small sliding door about 60cm x 60cm in size, one enters a tiny space. Often this space is only two tatami mats in size, the materials used inside all being left in their natural slate: wooden pillars, earth walls, bamboo ceilings and paper windows. There is no view of the garden. Attention is thus focused on the host, the sound of boiling water, the taste of the tea and on the people themselves. (De Mente, 2006: 30)

[Figure 12] A painting of the scene of the chapter "Takekawa "(bamboo river) of illustrated handscroll of Tale of Genji (

Futhermore in art and design, two other elements that are often associated with sabi objects are asymmetry and austerity. Kakuzo Okakura (2005:15), the Japanese tea master, labelled this asymmetry beauty as 'the art of imperfection'. In Japanese painting, one often notice that the representation of the likeness, or nise-e, of objects and places wasn't the goal of most Japanese painters nor their clientele (De Mente, 2006: 16) [figure 12]. Instead Japanese painters depicted subjects like, buildings and mountains from previous observations and other recollections with little care as to its likeness but rather its ability to capture the character and spirit of the object. Surprises are achieved by the unbalanced by the apparent randomness of things that allows the observer to complete the image.

5. Wabi-sabi and Tadao Ando

Building on the premise that the fundamental key to understanding Ando's capacity for abstract regionalism must be found in wabi-sabi aesthetics, this chapter seeks to identify the traits of wabi-sabi in Ando's works.

Out of his large body of works, five distinct but interrelated headings are presented here for study: 'time', 'light', 'spatial enclosure and inclusion of the world of nature', 'materials', and 'geometrical compositions'. To facilitate the engagement of these themes, the study shall present analysis a few public buildings designed by Ando alongside through first hand site visits, sketches, and literature review. Meantime, an examination of traditional Japanese precedents in architecture is offered alongside to show similar principles of wabi-sabi have been applied throughout the ages.

- Time

One of the central tenets of Zen Buddhist doctrine lies on the concept of mujō, meaning 'impermanence'. It emphasise, the awareness and acknowledgement that nothing is eternal and perfect. The aesthetics of wabi-sabi perceives a defect as a sign left by the passing of time and thus, the sign of life's existence (Nitschke, 1993: 39). It stresses on the idea of beauty closely linked to the blemish of growing old.

At the same time also, the manipulation of the perception of time can be interpreted as a technique developed to overcome the problems associated with a shortage of space in Japan (Isozaki, 2011). In architecture, attempts have been made to increase the perception of a limited site by extending the experience of a space over time. To this extent, the route taken through a Japanese garden or building is often carefully choreographed to maximise the perception of space.

Looking into Ando's design for Oyamazaki Villa Museum, Nitschke ( 1993: 43-47) offered a compelling analysis. His arguments are developed and extended by reference to a traditional precedents, especially the route to Jisho-ji Temple in Kyoto, the grounds of which contain the famous fifteenth-century Ginkaku-ji, popularly known as the Silver Pavilion. [figure 13, 14]

The project brief called for a conversion of an old villa built in the 1920s on the outskirts of Kyoto into an art museum. The original villa took inspiration from Tudor architecture, which the owner became familiar with and learned to appreciation while studying in England, The stylistic imprint is evident in every detail of the construction.

As seen in Figure 15, the journey of a visitor to Oyamazaki Villa Musuem might be considered as a procession, beginning some way from the grounds of the museum itself. A brief uphill walk from the town, one arrives at the museum where one is directed through to the old villa. The detachment of the building is emphasised by this slow journey and heightened by the surrounding forest. A similar technique can be found Jisho-ji where a sloping path, framed by trees, leads up to the main gate.

Ando's design can be seen born out of a strong interest in triggering an interaction between this eclectic architecture, with its expressive elements, and the open space of a modern new building, The existing building has now been juxtaposed with a cylindrical underground gallery that is just over six metres in diameter, covered and surrounded by greenery to achieve continuity with the grounds.

A straight staircase set at the entrance to the villa connects with a tunnel that links the gallery to the existing structure, forcing visitors to cross the old villa to reach the new extension. The latter is placed underground to respect the historic villa and leave the memories of the past intact.

This technique recalls the approach to a tea-ceremony huts which often leads through a garden space called a roji. This is exemplified in tea-ceremony huts in Kyoto's Katsura Imperial Villa, one of Japan's best known architectural heritages [figure 18]. In the course of traversing this garden, one passes through several gates, usually designed delicately and minimally, before finally reaching the pavilion where the tea ceremony will be performed. Detours are deliberately included in the stepping-stone walkway to generate similar anticipation and excitement.

The floor plan of Oyamazaki Villa Museum further demonstrates two important traits of 'time' in wabi-sabi aesthetic [figure 20]. First, the circular geometry encourages one to take time and admire the view of the exhibition and the colonnade leading to it. Secondly, one sense a further point of arrival at the building, recalling previous 'entry points' and also anticipating the journey ahead.

This sense of multiple thresholds is equally apparent at Jisho-ji [figure 19], where it is necessary to pass through three successive gateways before entering the main garden. Furthermore, the trees, 'captured' by the concrete platform, recall the traditional Shinto practice of tree-binding which marks them as sacred and, in effect, belonging to 'another' (mystical) time. (Nitschke, 1993: 35)

In short Ando's profound thought on mujo (impermanence) and wabu (deterioration), can be found in his writings:

'The Japanese have been inclined since ancient times to discover eternal character in that which fades and dies, feeling the eternal to be intuitable, contradictorily, in what has only fleeting existence. A flower is an ideal metaphor for this: for it withers, scattering its petals, just when we find it to have attained its optimum beauty. Though we pray for that beauty to endure, nothing in this world is immortal, and there is, finally, no more symbol for our yearning for the eternal in that which fades in an instant' (Ando, 1983: 174)

- Light

While describing the origin of his architecture based on the Japanese tea room, Ando wrote that 'a person sitting silent and contemplative in such a space has the feeling of experiencing limitless size within the interplay of light and dark' (Ando, 1990). This seems to be a conflicting statement. Traditional Japanese tea-rooms tend to be humble in their scale. 'Limitless size' seems uncharacteristic of tea rooms.

However, an explanation can be derived in his other writing:

'I introduce nature - light, wind, and water - within a geometric and ordered architecture, thereby awakening it to life (...) Contrasting elements meet with startling results, and in these results, architectural expression is born that is capable of moving the human spirit and allows us to glimpse the eternal within the moment. The abode of the eternal is thus within he who perceives it.' (Ando, 1974: 174)

Hence, in the spaces typified by meditative calmness and dimness, one observes Ando's intention to fuse the fleeting moment of 'the interplay of light and dark' with eternity.

A remarkable example can be found in Ando's Church of Light in Ibaraki, outside Osaka. In explaining his design, Ando wrote: 'light that, hollowing out darkness and piercing our bodies, blows life into "place". It was space constructed of such light as this that I sought' (Ando, 1995: ) Described Jodidio (1994)describes the shaft of penetrating sunlight as 'a ray of hope rendered vivid by the enclosure and the surrounding darkness'.

On the other hand, one traces a resembling lighting device in the works of notable tea ceremony master Kobori Enshu (1579-1647). At a tea ceremony room called the Koho-an Bosen, at the Kyoto temple Daitoku-ji, Ensho devised an unusual set of shoji that are completely open in the bottom zone to permit views of the garden and admit reflected light, but are filled with translucent white paper in the top to admit only diffused light [figure 22]

[Figure 22] Koho-an Bosen tea ceremony room in Daitoku-ji temple

The fragile beauty of shadows are utilised by Ando to infuse his buildings with an uncanny mood which enrich the void with darkness. In Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum in Higashiosaka [figure 23], visitors experience a space saturated with a heavy darkness, yet made significant by the sudden burst of light in the south-west elevation. Here, Ando is not merely quoting a traditional vocabulary, but abstracting a traditional aesthetic in the treatment of light.

[Figure 23]Author's sketch, Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum

- Spatial Enclosure and Inclusion of the World of Nature

In wabi-sabi aesthetics one often finds an emphasis of the appeal of the concealed. For example, consider the following comparison between a Japanese lacquerware [figure 24] and a Western shallow ceramic bowl, described by a novelist Junichiro Tanizaki:

Another example, would be a popular landscaping strategy mi-e-gakure, literally meaning 'now you see it, now you do not', used for constructing Japanese stroll gardens [figure 25]. The gardens are often constructed by intentionally blocking or partially obscuring the scenic view or the tea hut by dense planting, giving the stroller only its hint or glimpse.

[Figure 24] Tea caddy, Japan (Bizen), 1590-1630 (Victoria and Albert Museum permanent collection)

[Figure 25] Traditional Japanese stroll garden. Kyoto Imperial Palace

Though in many instances set in urban areas, Ando's works often strive for the mood of a concealed mountain retreat, 'the allure of the hidden' as described by Junichiro (1993). The spaces are shut out the exterior world but introduce nature, in symbolic form. This symbolic representation of nature is a major expression of wabi-sabi aesthetic, and is prevalent in all Japanese art. One outstanding example is the Zen rock gardens of the Ryoan-ji, a 13th century Buddhist temple in Kyoto, where stones and white sand are used to depict islands and the sea [figure 26].

In Ando's Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, near Kobe, visitors are greeted with a deceptively closed, minimalist volume of raw concrete [fig.27]. Despite appearing as a radically new building from the exterior, one can observes what Dal Co (1997:125) describes as "an old feeling of seclusion, an architecture that creates 'another world' remote from the everyday". He further describes the overall spatial structure is as 'closed to the outside yet open within, the former tempered by a few slits and the latter by layered planes'(1997:125). This seems suggestive of the wabi-sabi approach in traditional Japanese architecture, where buildings are enclosed with a simple mud wall and made inwardly porous by layered screens.

The museum consists of two wings, with the entrance in the inner one. This means that the visitor must enter through the front entrance, pass the wing on the road side of the museum, and then mount a gently sloping staircase to reach the front entrance. [figure 28]

However at the Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, the enclosing device is somewhat different. Approaching this archaeological history museum designed by Ando within a dense forest outside Osaka, one passes through a series of plum trees, a reminiscent of the torii gates in front of Shinto shrines [figure 29, 30]. Further on, one passes through another gate and then mount a staircase, flanked by concrete walls but open to the sky, to the front door, which is on the level of the second story. Here one must go around another obstructing wall before finally reaching the entrance

[Figure 29] Ground floor plan, Chikatsu-Asuka Historical Museum, with red indicating visitors' entrance route (Jodidio, 2004)

[Figure 30] Visitors' entrance route, Chikatsu-Asuka Historical Museum

The museum site has one of the best collections of Kofuni , or burial mounds, in Japan, with over two hundred of them, including four imperial tombs. To integrate the museum with the burial mounds, Ando conceived the museum as a stepped hill lifted tectonically from the natural terrain, from where one could view the entire burial mound group. Its roof, which is really a large stepped plaza, will be used for drama and music festivals as well as lectures and other performances. Conversely inside the building, the display areas are enclosed with darkness and sparse artificial lighting, as exhibits are displayed as they were found in tombs.

Ando decisively situated the museum on the severe slopes to make it a "quiet building standing quietly in nature" (Ando, 1989a: 46). One can relate this to Frampton's criteria for critical regionalism: 'a direct dialectical relation with nature', a dialogue with the environment that Ando's architecture embodies in the articulation of structure through the changing impact of terrain. In Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, the work is characterised by the valley which surrounds the site. In contrast to the modernist clean slate approach of levelling the site, Ando's approach is in true adherence to the spirit of wabi-sabi of preserving the tectonic quality of the nature.

[Figure 31] Entrance steps. Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, outside Osaka

Furthermore, it can also be argued that, in abidance to the tenets of wabi-sabi, Ando is seeking to tackle the tactile range of human perception. This romanticised emotion of wabi-sabi can be seen in the way Ando describes his buildings and context, which he refers to as 'cruel urban surroundings' (Ando, 1997:12). As discussed earlier, within his territorial walls and spatial enclosure, Ando is determined to establish a natural, Zen-like relationship between the person, material and natural phenomena. His works are designed to be experienced in 'body and spirit'. (eds. Knabe & Noennig, 1999: 118)

- Materials

In the last chapter of his book, Koren ascribes the material qualities of wabi: the suggestion of 'natural process', 'unpretentious', 'earthy', and 'murky' ( ) . One must note however that this description is not exclusively that of wabi-sabi aesthetics. They underlay a number of Japanese artistic design principles, ranging from 'obeying the request' of garden materials in pruning trees, arranging rocks, and designing the layout of a Japanese garden to 'listening to the pine tree' and 'entering into the bamboo' when composing a haiku (a form of Japanese poetry) about them, from retaining and enhancing the fresh taste, texture, shape, and colour of each ingredient in cooking to the celebration, rather than shunning, of recently manufactured materials such as concrete and plastic by contemporary architects () .

Traditional Japanese architecture often employs unfinished logs, simply split bamboo, and walls made of clay with an admixture of chopped straw, as in Katsura's tea-ceremony hut [figure 32]. Okakura(2005) argues that the use of materials without finishes is deliberate to create 'an aesthetically pure, ideal world of sobriety, calm and refined rusticity'. From Katsura one discerns that the designers of tea-ceremony architecture often carefully select only those materials conducive to production of a microcosm compatible with the aesthetics of wabi.

Designers of such architecture tend to use natural materials, to have them look as natural as possible, and to employ muted -almost monochrome - colour schemes. It is observed that many of Ando's works severely limits the range of interior colours. There are often entirely unfinished concrete with the exception of floors and furnishings, which are of natural materials. Window sashes, which, though steel, are always painted gray, never bright self-assertive colours. Baek ( )argues that this approach used both by designers of tea ceremony buildings and by Ando, is determined by a concern for the materials themselves and for spatial composition.

* * *

"The golden age of Japanese architecture was made possible in the 1960s by craftsmen who were totally dedicated to their work," reads the introductory paragraph by Tadao Ando in the visitors' pamphlet for 21_21 Design Sight (21_21 Design Sight, 2012). The pamphlet also highlighted the sophistication of the measurement systems used in construction and the complex operations involved. The methodology and discipline required in each of his projects have led to Ando's work being compared to the experience of observing famous Miyake creations. And yet this comes despite containing a multitude of materials (steel, glass and reinforced concrete) and diverse construction techniques that correspond to their different characteristics. [figure 35]

The triangle is the geometric shape that dominates the entire composition. Triangles form the bent parts of the roof coverage, as well as the contours of the openings and the footprint that develops in the interior spaces. Steel plates 16 millimetres thick are used to provide continuous coverage of the 54-metre long roof. Dal Co. (1997:10) commended that the components are mounted in such a flawless way that they recall the assembly techniques of the traditional Japanese tea houses.

Inside the building, one observes how the concrete surfaces have been treated, like the steel surfaces, with a fluoride coating, whereas the glass frames were inserted in a simpler fashion, with a bare, austere look. The interior also appeared modest in concrete masonry appearance.

It is in 21_21 Design Sight, and other spaces in Ando's works, that one notes the same peaceful, almost desolate spirit of wabi-sabi that informs the design of a teahouse or lonely mountain temple. Apart from warm touches of wooden flooring and nature beyond, every surface of timber, concrete, or steel presents a chilly monotonous hue [figure 34]. These tonalities can be argued as distinctly Japanese, most apparent in traditional tea-ceremony buildings in silvery roof tiles, grey-weathered boards, neutral plaster and white paper screens.

On the other hand, in the reconstruction of Nangakuzan Komyo-Ji temple in small town of Saijo on Ehime Island [figure 33], Ando conceived the temple as a wooden building, cloaked in delicate light and appearing to float all an expanse of water fed by a spring. The design further emphasises the importance of water as a feature of the landscape and, above all, the choice of wood as a material of construction. Exploring the possibilities that wood can offer to this temple, Ando wrote that

"(...) as I saw it, traditional Japanese wooden architecture was essentially one of assembly, building involved cutting all the pieces of wood and, bit by bit, the construction took form as the various parts came together. I wanted to create a space that represented a return to the origins of wooden architecture, a unique structure composed of diverse parts, each one rich in tension." (Jodidio, 2004: 78)

One can thus conclude that Ando's works can often be characterised by an almost religious attention in the choice building materials to create his own ideal kind of space. A maximum care is habitually devoted to the best possible treatment of unfinished concrete in buildings in which he hopes to symbolise nature, leaving only an echo of space as abstract architecture. In other works set in dense urban environment, Ando's preference for unfinished concrete can be interpreted as the the wabi aesthetic expressed in modern terms.

[Figure 34] Exhibition space, 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo

[Figure 35] Exterior view, 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo

- Geometrical Compositions

Rikyu, like many other his contemporary tea masters, aimed for regular forms and balanced proportions but included an element of distortion in his designs as observed in his tai-an tea ceremony room in ())))))))))))). Similarly, Ando employs almost exclusively straight lines and geometric forms. When curves occur in his work, they are in the form of circles or parts of circles. His designs stress floor plan pattern, in which balance between symmetry and asymmetry is important. Though the Tai-an tea ceremony room, as discussed earlier, has only the size two tatami mats in floor area, Rikyu considered the standard room to be four and one half tatami mats. [Figure 36]

[Figure 36] Author's sketch of axonometric view of tai-an tea-ceremony room

Since it prizes the value of abbreviation, Zen philosophy tends to prefer a perfectly empty space to a space that is perfectly complete. The same preference is to be seen in both tea ceremony architecture and in Ando's work.

This is most apparent in 21_21 Design Sight, which consists of two volumes with a path from one side of the triangle that defines the wings and courtyard entrance. At first, one's glance is drawn in by the folds of the roof, and by the two inclined triangular surfaces. The building looks as if it has been placed under a finely cut piece of metal. A spiral staircase with a triangular footprint connects the upper level to the exhibition space buried two metres into the ground. [figure 37]

[Figure 37] Ground Floor Plan, 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo (Jodidio, 2004)

In architecture symmetry is commonly perceived as the premise governing the total composition. However, in traditional Japanese architecture, within the whole, asymmetry in individual parts often infuses dynamic into the static totality. One can read this in the floor plans of Katsura Imperial Villa, where the Old Shoin (study rooms) was extended on two occasions (1641 and 1662) in a staggered manner [figure ]. This eventually resulted in a asymmetrical layout often described as 'geese in flight' - a formation that maximises the view of the garden and ventilation into the shoins.

As an alternative to symmetry, Ando often creates a restrained distortion by means of lines of sight, light or human motion. For instance, the overriding intention in Ando's Himeji Museum of Literature is a composition on the basis of balanced asymmetry, as is apparent from the plan, the wall surfaces, and the placement of entrance [figure 40].

Judging from the floor plan of the museum, the main building is aligned with the main axis of the complex and is the result of a mutual shift of two cubic volumes, the structure of which is based on a multi-unit grid so that they intersect at a 50-degree angle. The annexe building's function is evidently different to that of the main building, which was designed to accommodate both permanent and temporary exhibition. A concrete wall intersects a rectangular glass volume that is formed by three square modules each measuring eleven square metres. A cubic volume made of concrete is then inserted into the body of the glass volume at a 45 degree angle, thereby creating a two-storey entrance hall. One can conclude that the purpose behind this kind of plan seems to be a pursuit of spatial tension with the asymmetry expounded in sabi aesthetics.

[Figure 38] Ground Floor Plan, Himeji Museum of Literature (Jodidio, 2004)

[Figure 39] Visitors' Entrance, Himeji Museum of Literature

[Figure 40] Ground Floor Plan, Himeji Museum of Literature

Wabi-sabi in Tadao Ando

This chapter demonstrated Ando's ability to capture and express the aesthetics of wabi-sabi through his architecture. The varied themes employed to present a Japanese identity: from the considered manipulation of route to a sensitive control of natural light, draw inspirations from the architectural traditions of the country of his origin. In this respect, Ando's work is of particular relevance because it relates both to elements of Japanese aesthetic and to others more commonly associated with values from the precedents set by modern masters which he visited and learned from. As a result, one might not only look to Ando's work for inspiration in terms of his development of good architecture, but also as a model of how a historical aesthetic can be reinterpreted in contemporary architecture, as much in a Western as a Japanese context.


6. Conclusion

The study concludes with discussions on how contemporary architects in Asia can (or may have) apply abstractive approaches, similar of Ando's abstraction of Japanese abstraction, to create a valuable built environment flowing out of a critical interchange with its history.

An exploration of the reasons for Ando's success as a critical regionalist is beyond the scope of this study, but Kenneth Frampton (1987) and all provide compelling arguments for such an architecture. These authors advocate architecture grounded in reality, heightening and celebrating the experience of real, as opposed to mediated or virtual, things. In resistance to a modern world dominated by speed, Ando offers places of slowness, places where ordinariness and the cycles of natural time may be contemplated.

As with a human being, every culture must both be itself and transcend itself: it must make the most of its limitations and must pass beyond them; it must be open to fresh experience and yet it must maintain its integrity. In no other art is that process more sharply focused than in architecture.

Such a process has been shown to enrich and enliven the experience of buildings both traditional and modern. By identifying and describing some of these concepts in relation to Ando's work, it is hoped that the importance of time to all architecture or 'place making' might be made more evident.