Tadao Ando is like a Renaissance man, with several talents. An architect, a former boxer. At Centre Pompidou, he also proves to be a highly skilled photographer and designer, and his thoughts on architecture and urbanism are unique and borderline futuristic, despite his age. Even today, grey he uses in his endeavours, smooth and soft to the touch, appears to be a well-kept secret.
The retrospective at Centre Pompidou reveals his sketches, the handmade drawings (even when made by his cabinet), long before AutoCAD, the models of perennial works and never materialized projects and, also, his outstanding photographs of buildings designed by him.
The photographs of his own efforts, in black and white, reveal what is unique and outstanding in his architecture: the contrast between light and shadow. Ando worked the light like a cinematographer who adjusts lights and shadows for a film (we remember Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman’s cinematographer or the contrast of Pedro Costa’s films). His architecture is actually quite scenic. Tadao Ando plays with the surroundings, owns the environment, the existing topography, like a sculptor owns the stone and carves it in the way he imagined or based on what the stone suggested. If Tadao Ando confessed that he conversed with the land and plants, to listen to their own suggestions on shape, we would believe in him, given the perfect interaction in buildings like The Hill of the Buddha, Benesse House Oval in Naoshima, Chichu Art Museum also in Naoshima, or any of its wonderful religious temples dedicated to any of the existing religions. His sagaciousness is unbounded, even in the way he uses water in his Church on Water. In the architect’s mind, building for the community is essential: one has to know community to which they work for, so that they can meet their housing or spiritual needs.
The retrospective covers a bit of his career, from the beginning in the 70s to the present day, with ongoing projects, such as the reconversion of the former Paris stock exchange building into a museum, or even projects that competed for prizes, and, quite absurdly, did not win.
In Gallery 3 we can see several building mock-ups and photographs, some sketches and perspectives designed by Ando and technical drawings that still used multi-layered tracing paper to give a sense of three-dimensionality to the art of projecting before AutoCAD. We can see plants, elevations, cuts and models of different materials and scales, some of them impressive by themselves. The drawings, some with coloured details, augment the visitor’s enjoyment. Some rather conventional slideshows of the works add little to the whole remaining exhibition route.
Tadao Ando’s body of work could easily be pigeonholed as Land Art, if it were not intended for specific human functions, such as the perfect relation with the surroundings. Anne Cauquelin thought perhaps of Tadao Ando when she wrote: “An implicit cosmology establishes a system of perception based on the four elements and where the senses interact with each other (…). However, it relies on continuous work: we transform by addition-extension or by subtraction. ”[i]
[i] Cauquelin, Anne, L’invention du paysage. Edições 70, Lisboa, 2008, p.110