In recent times, we have been constantly confronted with various distressing events in our daily lives, whether a pandemic, wars, or earthquakes. One can’t help but ponder: what does one live for?
Champion boxer Muhammad Ali once said, "I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be who I want to be and think what I want to think." Those who set their sights on material gains, who make decisions by putting the perceptions of others before their own thoughts – for instance, by choosing a famous university or a top paying job at a renowned company in their educational or career choices – may never attain true satisfaction. Despite their high pay, top athletes and celebrities continue to strive for excellence as material success alone does not satisfy; they yearn for others to recognize the fruits of their labor, and experience joy only in mutual resonance with others. By comparison, those who strive to be the person they want to be, do not find joy in the attractive aspects of human nature, but in dull reality. Life has never been dictated by human will. Regardless of what is attempted, failure is the usual outcome. Even so, if one is determined to risk whatever possibilities remain, to seize the opportunity of that glimmer in the darkness, giving their all in order to “be” – this is what Ali meant by being who you want to be. This likely describes Architect Tadao Ando.
When evaluating an individual, consideration is often given to their outward achievements. When people realize that Tadao Ando is an autodidact who forged his own path to renown, they often imagine a broad and shining avenue, which is not the case. In a conservative Japanese society where breeding and education is paramount, those without a pedigree must overcome challenge after challenge that come their way. From his enlightenment, to boxing, to architecture, to his commitment to global environmental conservation, to overcoming a personal ordeal with cancer, “endeavors” have been a lifetime focus for Tadao Ando, and serve as the theme for his current exhibition in Taipei.
Launched in Tokyo in Autumn of 2017, the current global touring exhibition has circled the globe, stopping in Paris, Milan, Shanghai, and Beijing before culminating in Taiwan on its final stop in Summer of 2022. The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park Warehouse No. 1, constructed during the Japanese colonial period, has been chosen as the exhibition venue. Tadao Ando often mentions that the entirety of his oeuvre represents only a small footnote in architectural history, and hopes that he can inspire each visitor to substantively experience the dialog between his architecture and the context of the histories that preceded and followed him.
The digital networking era has deprived us of opportunities for tactile firsthand experiences. The current exhibition does not include any computer simulated spaces, but is presented through design sketches, original models, technical drawings, video installations, and photographs created by Ando himself, including a 1:1 full-scale reproduction of Church of the Light. Through this encounter, it is hoped that the audience can tangibly experience his world of architecture.
The rhythmic rise and fall of the four gallery areas provides a narrative arc for the exhibition. These include “Primitive Shapes of Space,” featuring the architect’s earliest works including the Azuma House in Sumiyoshi, Rokko Housing, and Church of the Light; followed by “An Urban Challenge,” where he laid an egg-shaped theater space at the center of the near-derelict Osaka City Central Public Hall as a part of the architectural revitalization Nakanoshima Project; and “Landscape Genesis” exemplified by the Naoshima Plan that revived art in the aftermath of overcoming public nuisance and pollution, and the ingenious camouflaging of Hill of the Buddha. Lastly, “Dialogue with History,” not only presents ways in which Tadao Ando preserved his memories of the past, but also sheds light on the reasoning behind his contributions to fund and construct children’s libraries from Osaka to Kobe, seen through his lens of self-comparison to a middle runner in a relay race, as he passes the baton to the next generation.
Beyond an appreciation for the style of design and an understanding of material technology and other professional disciplines, it is hoped that the architecture of Tadao Ando will ignite courage among non-architects as they welcome the future. This is the true meaning of the “endeavor” in the Tadao Ando exhibition in Taipei.
Curatorial Advisor Kokuei Ryu