Tadao Ando – A lesson in experience design

By Vat Jaiswal, May 2, 2013

Tadao Ando is a self taught (makes you question your university education), world renowned Japanese architect practicing architecture since 1968. He is most renowned for his design style which focuses on “experience” rather than visuals. His architecture mostly comprises of simple materials that allow the viewer to focus on the feeling and mood created by the architect rather than distracting colors, materials, shapes etc. This architecture is done for the subconscious mind and in many ways is more powerful way of designing buildings.

Architecture is a stage for experiences

If architecture is a stage for experiences, the architect creates the actors (walls, windows, spaces etc) and sets the lighting, rhythm and mood for the show. Too many architects are designing buildings for visual appeal and the experience of architecture is getting undermined. We always talk about architecture being reduced to function or aesthetics but why do we miss the experience part? Ando is the creator of a microcosm that you get lost inside, just like a captivating book, movie or a painting. And surprisingly, his techniques of achieving this effect is counter intuitive. Instead of creating more architecture, he eliminates it; which draws the viewer attention where it is needed. Imagine how distracting it would be to read a book with background images. Ando creates the blank background needed to focus the reader on reading the text of a novel. Discarding the excess from architecture, he makes a perfect stage to exaggerate the ongoing drama of life in his buildings. Less is more with materials, shapes, lines and volumes. Sensory overload is not necessary.

The architect directs your attention

Once Ando creates a blank background with his signature silky concrete, you can truly experience depth, breadth and height of a space. As in his museums, the artwork get the attention they desire. In spiritual spaces, the emptiness/nothingness emphasizes on serenity and peacefulness. Similarly, an architect could emphasize the communal feeling in a living room, privacy in a bedroom, relaxation in a balcony and ecstasy in framed window view. These are all different ways of drawing viewers attention to where needed, like changing the spotlight in a theatre. As mentioned previously, this is achieved with a minimalist background and emphasized further with natural light and arrangement of spaces in the floor plan.


Playing with the senses

To further promote the experience of architecture, Ando plays with your senses to evoke curiosity. Sometimes there is a perfectly crafted stair leading nowhere, hallway in the middle of a garden, follies and sculptures in strange places. This is not to add confusion or mystery. It is a way an architect can communicate with the user to evoke any and all feelings that one desires: completely open to interpretation. Just like a weird sculpture makes you think, ask and consider questions that you previously had never asked yourself, sensory play focuses inwardly and makes you wonder about architecture and ‘you’ inside it.

Design for the feeling

Ever wonder why a hand drawn sketch looks better than a computer rendering? We are humans, we feel more than we think. This is the same reason why working in a basement and working on a beach seem completely like different worlds! Simply put, you are working in both cases. But one gives the feeling of being trapped and the other gives the feeling of being free. It is this feeling that architects should strive to design for. Different architecture needs different moods. You must prepare to design a hospital and also a nightclub. Good architects can deliver buildings aesthetically, functionally and experientially.


If you are interested in reading more about Tadao Ando, I recommend reading “Ando Architect” by Tomio Ohashi and “Tadao Ando, Complete Works” by Francesco Dal Co. Credit for all images goes to original photographers mentioned in the latter book. This article is a part of my SMA project, don’t forget to check out the other architects!

Vat Jaiswal

About the author- I am currently:

1) Researching the 50 most acclaimed architects in the world.
2) Doing a Master in Architecture degree
3) Doing timelapse and hyperlapse photography in Canada
4) Practicing Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and Korean

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  1. Beenal Kanji says:

    I have found your view on Tadao Ando very interesting and couldn’t agree with you more. Im currently a first year BAS student studying in New Zealand. Just so happened to stumble across your piece here while looking for some inspiration on Ando to fit in with my own design theory.

    would love to read more of your work. P.s enjoying your travels


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