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Book Review: Shedding Light on Concrete: Tadao Ando: Complete Works 1975-2010 by Philip Jodidio

Photographic presentation of a poet of light and concrete triumphs over lackluster commentary.

By Norman Weinstein
June 8, 2010

This weighty coffee-table tome, if accidentally knocked off furniture, could maim a small dog, one like “Le Corbusier,” who happens to be Tadao Ando’s pet. This isn‘t mentioned frivolously – nor is it irrelevant to this magnificent, and magnificently flawed, catalogue raisonée of Ando’s architecture. An autodidact, Ando began his commitment to design at age 15 after reading Corbu rather than seeking a formal design education, and one way of considering the meaningfulness of Ando’s opus thus far is to treat his vision as Le Corbusier’s vision both tamed and allowed to run wild.


This review of Ando: Complete Works 1975-2010 (Taschen, 2010) begins with this tangent about Le Corbusier (and his canine version) because Philip Jodidio’s commentaries barely transcend dutifully noting Le Corbusier’s catalytic impact on Ando finding his own identity. There is nothing markedly incorrect or sloppy in Jodidio’s comments – they are the same that you can read in other articles and monographs. What troubles is the missed opportunity to get under the surfaces of Ando’s art.


The copious photographs and drawings alone justify the book’s purchase, with the large 12-by-15-inch format ideal for conveying both monumentality and details. With the heft of the book in hand, there’s the opportunity to see gorgeous photo spreads of 50 built and planned projects, with the rest of Ando’s works contained in black-and-white thumbnails no e-book reader should carp about discerning.


The 20 photographers, the real “authors” of this colossal volume, should be roundly applauded for evoking the dance of light across concrete that is the heart of Ando’s art. Derived from Le Corbusier, and filtered through Louis Kahn’s influence, Ando makes his mark apart from his early mentors by exercising those facets of Japanese aesthetic sensibility most ignored by fey Western advocates of Japonisme. Ando’s Japanese aesthetics is not the stuff of delicate tea rituals; his is the Japanese sensibility that spawned martial arts and Noh theater. There’s nothing of the architect as affected aesthete here, nothing stereotypically anemically academic. He’s earned his keep in his youth as a professional boxer and truck driver, and those high-impact, athletic professions left their mark in these earthy works. His artistry with concrete – 15-foot-thick walls of it that nevertheless create a sense of spiritual lightness and buoyancy – substantiates the claim of Ando as a post-Corbusier architect without qualms about wildly amplifying as well as softly refining the concrete proclivities of his teacher.


I would suggest bypassing Jodidio’s workmanlike but uninspired introduction and going directly to the photographs and drawings as you please. After doing so with pleasure at every image, I found myself most often returning to the Chichu Art Museum that has among its small collection a Monet “Water Lilies” and three works by the light/earthworks artist James Turrell. Largely underground, Ando has crafted a museum where indirect light from Nature continually surprises, and perhaps even sensually caresses visitors, as they meditate on this museum-based community of artists of light nested in an ideal house of light.


This is as close to capturing Tadao Ando’s magic as any book is likely to achieve, my reservations about the commentary notwithstanding.



Norman Weinstein writes about architecture and design for Architectural Record and The Christian Science Monitor, and is the author of “Words That Build” – an exclusive 21-part series published by – that focuses on the overlooked foundations of architecture: oral and written communication. He consults with architects and engineers interested in communicating more profitably. You can reach him at


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(click on pictures to enlarge)

Guido Mocafico

Front cover image: House and Stables for Tom Ford and Richard Buckley, North Galisteo, New Mexico

Mitsuo Matsuoka

Nariwa Museum, Okayama, Japan

Mitsuo Matsuoka

Church of the Light, Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan

Tadao Ando

Church of the Light - Sunday School, Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan

Mitsuo Matsuoka

Tokyu Toyoko-Line Shibuya Station, Shibuya-Ku,Tokyo