Born in Osaka in 1941, Tadao Ando is a self-taught architect who learned his trade while travelling in Europe during the 1960s. Fascinated by Le Corbusier, Ando arrived in Paris just after his idol’s death in 1965; however, he then put Le Corbusier’s architectural legacy to good use in his own work. Back in Japan, Ando opened his own firm in 1969, starting with simple houses that expressed his vision of architecture as the fruit of lived experience; that embodying his taste for a purity of style which seemed to combine the physical and the spiritual. As Ando’s reputation spread, he began to receive commissions from an ever-widening range of clients. His museums and churches testify to the coherence of his aesthetics, but also demonstrate his ability to enter into the spirit of a landscape, to reveal its essence by structuring the visitor’s experience of it. Ando has been deeply influenced by Japanese tradition and its focus upon assembled constructions, upon balance and the eloquent interaction of light and materials. But he has also drawn upon the modern tradition in the West, using pure spatial volumes and straightforward forms to create a meditative tension between the inner and outer, between light and shadow, object and context.
From the nineties onwards, wood gradually took pride of place in his work. For example, it was the primary material in his design for the Japanese Pavilion at the Seville Universal Exposition in 1992. Amongst Ando’s most important works, one might list The Church of the Light in Osaka (1989) and the Church on the Water (1991). The Japanese architect has taught at various prestigious universities – Yale (1987), Columbia (1988) and Harvard (1990) – then being appointed to a Chair at the University of Tokyo (1991). Tadao Ando is also the winner of many prestigious international awards. In 1995, he was awarded the Pritzker Prize, one of the highest distinctions in architecture; he donated the prize money to the orphans of Kobe, where part of the city had been destroyed by an earthquake that same year. In 1996, he won the Praemium Imperiale, awarded by the Japan Art Association in recognition of his contribution culture and the arts. In France, he was nominated an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1997. In 1995, he received the Gold Medal of the International Union of Architects and became a Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur the same year. Since 1997, Tadao Ando has worked on the ecological project Umi no mori in Japan, involving the creation of a “Forest on the Sea” with more than 480,000 trees. This “green lung” will be created by the city of Tokyo as a symbolical place, a sort of polder into an artificial island within the bay where the Japanese capital stands.
Already very familiar with the architect’s work - and greatly appreciating its combination of the contemporary and the timeless, the abstract and the sensorial – François Pinault commissioned Ando to build a museum on the Ile Séguin in Paris. After the cancellation of that project, he subsequently involved Ando in work on his Venetian initiatives: the renovation of Palazzo Grassi in 2005 and the restoration of Punta della Dogana in 2008-2009.