Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese master Tadao Ando took an unconventional route to architecture, starting out as a boxer and a lorry driver.
Completely self-taught, his unorthodox training did not stop him winning the Pritzker prize, considered the Nobel of architecture, following in the footsteps of the likes of Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid.
“Without studying, without going to vocational school, I became an architect, by observing, by experimenting, by feeling, by being touched,” he told AFP as a retrospective of his work opened in Tokyo.
Some put his success down to a simple approach to architecture. Concrete, light and wind are his three base elements, he said.
Architecture is “a living and moving being”, said the 76-year-old, who has buildings all over the world, from Mexico to Manhattan and Manchester.
“It’s knowing where to place a child so he feels most at home. It’s not beauty, it’s thinking together, living together,” said Ando, who still keeps a pair of his old red boxing gloves in his office.
And while some of his peers are seen as visionary individualists, Ando has a more balanced view, believing architecture to be a “team effort” alongside engineers and technicians.
For Ando, everything begins and ends with concrete.
“Concrete is the symbol of the modern era. Anyone can get it at any time, in the United States, France, Germany, Britain. I wanted to produce unique architecture using this material which is available to all,” he told AFP.
At a time when artificial intelligence and robots threaten to take over several sectors of the economy, Ando stressed that “human intelligence had to take precedence”, although he admitted that AI “will definitely change the world.”
Ando has recently been commissioned to convert the magnificent 19th-century Bourse de Commerce, which sits on the edge of Paris’s former central market district and which the architect compared to Rome’s ancient Pantheon.
As part of the retrospective at Tokyo’s National Art Center, Ando’s famous Church of the Light in the western city of Ibaraki has been completely recreated.
Fans can also see more than 200 sketches and drawings at the exhibition, which runs until December 18.