Tadao Ando: 'I was overwhelmed by the immense beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright's space'

The Pritzker-winning Japanese architect on the Tokyo hotel that inspired his career

The first time I became aware of modernism was through the work of Le Corbusier. I first laid my eyes on his monograph in the art section of a secondhand bookstore. It was too expensive to buy right away, so I saved my money and bought it a month later. I read it over and over, tracing every drawing until the pages turned black. Even though my knowledge at the time was not extensive enough to understand the intricacies of modernism, the contents of the book were fascinating.

I was in my late teens when I first saw the Imperial hotel by Frank Lloyd Wright, at the end of the 50s. I happened upon the building during a trip to Tokyo. It was well before the beginning of my career as an architect, and I had not yet heard of Wright. I was overwhelmed by the immense beauty and richness of the space. My response to the building was a purely emotional one as I had no knowledge of the technical and cultural complexities of architecture. I was shocked yet intrigued to know that architecture could induce a feeling akin to exploring a whole new world. The building itself was exotic in appearance, covered with local Oya stones and ornately designed fixtures, with a labyrinth-like interior unfamiliar to the canon of Japanese architecture. It was an utterly foreign design which inexplicably integrated with the urban and cultural landscape of Tokyo.

The day of the opening ceremony coincided with the Great Kanto Earthquake, but the building miraculously survived with little damage. Additionally, the architect’s office was located in America in an era without efficient long-distance travel and immediate international communication. I cannot comprehend the difficulties of coordinating this project without the conveniences we have today.

Unfortunately, the hotel was demolished in 1968, due to the frivolous mood of an era brimming with economic growth. Even though the building no longer exists, the architecture persists in my mind. Frank Lloyd Wright profoundly influenced the architecture of the 20th century and left a legacy of proteges who would go on to shape the future of the profession in Japan, such as Antonin Raymond and Arata Endo. He never gave up designing and creating until the end of his life, at the age of 91, and the Guggenheim Museum was completed after he passed away. Even if I’m no match for him, I also desire to continue my own battle as an architect for as long as I live.

The Challenge – Tadao Ando, a retrospective of his work, is at the Armani Silos, Milan, from 9 April until 28 July.

Tadao Ando

The GuardianTramp

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