It was with a barrage of mixed feelings when I watched an interview of Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando on cable TV last night. Now, interviews seldom leave an impression on me. To me, these are just well-planned marketing or PR tools. But this one is really different to me, and you'll see why.
During the interview, Ando talked about his life, his works and his unique approach to modernist architecture. This architect is truly world-class. Hearing this man talk about architecture was such a joy. I was most affected when he discussed about the relationship between men and architecture, his genuine concern for the impact of construction on the environment and his thoughts on the 1995 Kobe earthquake. The programme went on to showcase some of his most famous buildings, with Ando seriously explaining the concept behind the design for each.
And then came the most thought-provoking part of the show.
Ando was asked about his famous "Row House in Sumiyoshi" (Azuma House), a small two-storey house completed in 1976. It consists of three equally sized rectangular volumes: two enclosed volumes of interior spaces separated by a central courtyard. Access to every room requires the resident to pass through a bridge over the courtyard. And hear this – this central section is completely roofless, and the residents must carry umbrellas to move around their home on rainy days.
What?! I hear you asking.
But as Ando puts it, "Direct contact with nature is the height of luxury for a city-dweller.". And even though I really like his concept of getting in touch with nature - good or bad - I also began to wonder just how many clients would be willing to accept such a radical idea and give the go-ahead for the design. Be it in 1976, 1996 or 2007. For a modern home dweller used to all the luxuries of life? Slim chance, I thought...
Indeed, I can readily relate this one seemingly unimportant matter to a common predicament of almost every design industry. You know I'm talking about the importance of supportive clients. Someone who will give the designer all the support the latter needs to see his or her vision through. Think about this, Ando is only starting out at that time, and he sure isn't world-famous then. To sell the idea of lugging an unbrella inside the house during bad weathers is no easy feat. Especially so without an open-minded client.
But what happened in the end? The Row House was lauded by critics and firmly established Ando as one of the leading architects of our time.
Just my two cents worth.