When the dust had settled in the wake of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, all 30 of Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s buildings were still standing, despite their location at the epicenter of the quake.
Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Thompson said he fell in love with Ando’s work after he heard Ando speak in the wake of the disaster.
“Ando builds earthquake-proof buildings,” Master Thompson said. “But the thing that really got me was when he saw children playing in the ruins, he said, ‘That’s my constituency. I’m going to dedicate my life to the irrepressible spirit of children.'”
Ando showed his sincerity by donating the prize money he won for the prestigious 1995 Pritzker Architecture Prize to orphans of the earthquake.
At a Thursday Master’s Tea limited to thirty students, held at Caffe Adulis, Thompson told the group that after he heard Ando speak he knew he had to ask the famed architect to Yale. Thompson invited Ando as part of the Chubb Fellowship program.
“You understand, we had no choice,” Thompson said.
Ando first came to Yale in 1987 as an assistant professor.
“I thought it was really brave of Yale to invite someone who didn’t speak the language to come and teach,” Ando said through a Japanese-speaking interpreter. “Especially for me, who did not go to university.”
Ando said he was not able to go to college because of limited finances in his family.
In response to a student’s question about the difficulty of being self-taught, Ando said the going was not always easy.
“But if you have a will and you know you can do it, you only have to prove to others that you can,” Ando said.
One student asked about the “handmade appearance” of some of Ando’s work.
“I don’t know what makes that quality,” Ando said. “But I have always believed in leaving something in the building to communicate to oppressed people who visit it. Perhaps that is the reason people feel that there is something human or handmade in the buildings.”
Two of Ando’s most famous buildings are the Church of the Light in Osaka, Japan, and Church on the Water in Hokkaido, Japan.
The Church of the Light is a simple structure, made of a concrete box with slits behind the altar that allow sunlight to form a bright cross in the otherwise dark interior.
Thompson asked Ando about his frequent use of concrete in his structures.
“I use concrete because it is the most common material of the 20th century. I try to turn this common material into something that can express my feelings,” Ando said. “When I designed the Church of the Light, I wanted it to be a quiet place [in which] people can meditate and connect with something beyond themselves. I wanted it to be a place people could come for peace and respite.”
Ando said he designed the two churches with the thought of how a connection to nature can bring this peace.
“[I wanted] to bring in elements of nature — air, water, light — so that people feel there is an aspect of nature inside,” Ando said.
Art major Anne Weber ’03 said she thought Ando reached this goal.
“The way he transcends boundaries of interior and exterior, and the way he uses light is beautiful,” Weber said. “It’s very minimal, very simple, but powerful at the same time.”