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Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review: Tadao Ando 1

Tadao Ando 1: Houses and Housing by Tadao Ando

Looking for Tadao Ando books at Prairie Avenue Bookshop yields 23 titles, four more than today's most celebrated and well-known architect, Frank Gehry. Not only are Ando's buildings amazingly photogenic, and not only is his production prolific enough to warrant almost continuous publication by various publishers, but his buildings are the type that make other architects drool. They make other architects jealous of his skill, gained not by professional training but by travel and exposure to places and buildings. It's as if books on Ando can provide a secret to his magic, making the purchase of them hard to resist for architects who want to capture light as well as him, or shape and finish concrete in a way that elevates the material to its utmost, or make a wall so appealing the owner can't bear to hang a painting on it. Like other books on Ando, this book (the first in a series published by Toto on and by the architect himself) won't provide the answers, but the text by Ando that accompanies the requisite photographs and drawings gives a glimpse into the architect's mind that others will appreciate.

The narrow focus on houses on housing helps the book considerably, allowing Ando's text (for each project but also including a brief biography and an interview with the client of his 4x4 House in Osaka) to be equally focused, and giving the remaining books in the series room for additional insight. Residential commissions are some of the architect's most well-known, from his early Rowhouse in Sumiyoshi to the aforementioned 4x4 House. In between is a consistent output with surprising variety within Ando's tried-and-true formula of concrete and glass, with a little steel thrown in here and there. Like his religious commissions, houses give the architect a small palette to attempt new solutions, in this case for dwelling both individually and in multi-family housing. In this book the latter is devoted to his Rokko Housing, a three-phase development on a steep slope in Kobe. Here, as in many of Ando's other large-scale works, we yearn for the qualities of the small projects, the intimate play of light on his signature concrete, and the tactility of the same. That even Ando cannot capture the "magic" on every project should be some sort of consolation to those architects buying and reading his books.

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