Tadao Ando of Osaka, Japan is a man who is at the pinnacle of success in his own country. In the last few years, he has emerged as a cultural force in the world as well. In 1995, the Pritzker Architecture Prize was formally presented to him within the walls of the Grand Trianon Palace at Versailles, France. There is little doubt that anyone in the world of architecture will not be aware of his work. That work, primarily in reinforced concrete, defines spaces in unique new ways that allow constantly changing patterns of light and wind in all his structures, from homes and apartment complexes to places of worship, public museums and commercial shopping centers.

“In all my works, light is an important controlling factor,” says Ando. “I create enclosed spaces mainly by means of thick concrete walls. The primary reason is to create a place for the individual, a zone for oneself within society. When the external factors of a city’s environment require the wall to be without openings, the interior must be especially full and satisfying.”

And further on the subject of walls, Ando writes, “At times walls manifest a power that borders on the violent. They have the power to divide space, transfigure place, and create new domains. Walls are the most basic elements of architecture, but they can also be the most enriching.”

Ando continues, “Such things as light and wind only have meaning when they are introduced inside a house in a form cut off from the outside world. I create architectural order on the basis of geometry squares, circles, triangles and rectangles. I try to use forces in the area where I am building, to restore the unity between house and nature (light and wind) that was lost in the process of modernizing Japanese houses during the rapid growth of the fifties and sixties.”

John Morris Dixon of Progressive Architecture wrote in 1990: “The geometry of Ando’s interior plans, typically involving rectangular systems cut through by curved or angled walls, can look at first glance rather arbitrary and abstract. What one finds in the actual buildings are spaces carefully adjusted to human occupancy.” Further, he describes Ando’s work as reductivist, but “… the effect is not to deprive us of sensory richness. Far from it. All of his restraint seems aimed at focusing our attention on the relationships of his ample volumes, the play of light on his walls, and the processional sequences he develops.”

In his childhood, he spent his time mostly in the fields and streets. From ages 10 to 17, he also spent time making wood models of ships, airplanes, and moulds, learning the craft from a carpenter whose shop was across the street from his home. After a brief stint at being a boxer, Ando began his self-education by apprenticing to several relevant persons such as designers and city planners for short periods. “I was never a good student. I always preferred learning things on my own outside of class. When I was about 18, I started to visit temples, shrines, and tea houses in Kyoto and Nara, there’s a lot of great traditional architecture in the area. I was studying architecture by going to see actual buildings, and reading books about them. “ He made study trips to Europe and the United States in the sixties to view and analyze great buildings of western civilization, keeping a detailed sketch book which he does even to this day when he travels.

About that same time, Ando relates that he discovered a book about Le Corbusier in a secondhand bookstore in Osaka. It took several weeks to save enough money to buy it. Once in his possession, Ando says, “I traced the drawings of his early period so many times that all the pages turned black. In my mind, I quite often wonder how Le Corbusier would have thought about this project or that.” When he visited Marseilles, Ando recalls visiting Corbu’s Únite d’Habitation, and being intrigued by the dynamic use of concrete. Although concrete (along with steel and glass) is Ando’s favorite material, he has used wood in a few rare projects, including the Japan Pavilion for Expo ‘92 in Spain.

Ando’s concrete is often referred to as “smooth-as-silk.” He explains that the quality of construction does not depend on the mix itself, but rather on the form work into which the concrete is cast. Because of the tradition of wooden architecture” in Japan, the craft level of carpentry is very high. Wooden form work, where not a single drop of water will escape from the seams of the forms depends on this. Watertight forms are essential. Otherwise, holes can appear and the surface can crack.

His form moulds, or wooden shuttering (as it is called in Japan), are even varnished to achieve smooth-as-silk finish to the concrete. The evenly spaced holes in the concrete, that have become almost an Ando trademark, are the result of bolts that hold the shuttering together. Ando’s concrete is both structure and surface, never camouflaged or plastered over.

Although Ando has a preference for concrete, it is not part of the Japanese building tradition. “Most Japanese houses are built with wood and paper,” he explains, “including my own. I have lived there since I was a child. It is like my cave, I’m very comfortable there.” He explained that he was the firstborn of twin boys. When he was two, it was decided that his maternal grandmother would raise him, and he was given her name, Ando. They first lived near the port of Osaka before moving to where he lives today.

Ando’s appreciation of the carpenter’s craft comes partially because as he describes, “I spent a lot of time as a child observing in a woodworking shop across” the street from the house where I grew up. I became interested in trying to make shapes out of wood. With young eyes and sensitivities, I watched how trees grew, altered by how the sun hit it, changing the qualities of the lumber produced. I came to understand the absolute balance between a form and the material from which it is made. I experienced the inner struggle inherent in the human act of applying will to give birth to a form” ...

Tadao Ando, a 53 year-old architect who lives and works in Osaka, Japan, was named the eighteenth Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. In making the announcement, Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, quoted from the jury's citation which describes Ando's architecture as "an assemblage of artistically composed surprises in space and form ... that both serve and inspire ... with never a predictable moment as one moves throughout his buildings.

"Ando is the third Japanese architect to be selected for his profession's highest honor which carries a $100,000 grant. The formal presentation was made on May 22 in the Grand Trianon Palace at Versailles, France.

Pritzker affirmed the jury's choice, saying, "Ando conceives his projects as places of habitation not as abstract designs in a landscape. It is not surprising that he is often referred to by his professional peers and critics as being as much a builder as an architect. That emphasizes how important he considers craftsmanship in accomplishing his designs. He requires absolute precision in the making and casting of his concrete forms to achieve the smooth, clean and perfect concrete for his structures."

Even though nearly all of his projects make use of cement as the primary building material, he was a carpenter's apprentice for short time where he learned the craftsmanship of traditional Japanese wooden construction. In fact, one of his most widely known structures was built almost entirely of wood, the Japanese Pavilion for Expo '92 in Spain.

Most of Ando's projects have been in Japan, concentrated mainly in the Osaka area where he was born, raised and currently lives and works. In addition to a number of inspiring religious structures, he has designed museums, commercial buildings that include offices, factories and shopping centers. His professional career began, however, with residential projects.

One of his first commissions was for a small row house in 1977 in his native Osaka, called Azuma House, which received the top prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan in 1979. He has designed a number of significant homes—for single and multiple families—sometimes for mixed commercial/residential use, as well as apartment complexes. 

Bill Lacy, executive director for the international panel of jurors that elects the Laureate each year, quoted further from the formal citation from the jury which states, "Ando has accomplished an extraordinary body of work. His powerful inner vision ignores whatever movements, schools or styles that might be current, creating buildings with form and composition related to the kind of life that will be lived there.

Lacy, who is an architect himself and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, elaborated, "A key part of Ando's architectural philosophy is the creation of boundaries within which he can create introspective domains, encapsulating space where people can interrelate to light and shadow, wind and water, away from the surrounding urban chaos. 

The selection of Ando marks the third Pritzker Laureate from Japan. Kenzo Tange was the first in 1987 and Fumihiko Maki in 1993 confirming that country's indelible mark on twentieth century modernist architecture that was previously almost exclusively American and European mainstream."

As a self-taught architect, with no architectural degree or even training with a master architect, Ando attributes his development to extensive reading and a number of study trips to Europe and the United States to see actual buildings from history. He kept detailed sketch books of all his travels which he still does to this day.

One of his most important housing projects is called Rokko Housing, which was accomplished in two phases the first has twenty units each with a terrace but differing in size and layout, the second, comprising 50 units, was completed in 1993. While the units appear to be uniform on the outside, each one has a unique interior. Built of reinforced concrete with a rigid frame, the units are embedded in the side of sixty degree sloping hillside with a panoramic view of Osaka Bay, and provide such amenities as a swimming pool and a rooftop plaza. Ando received Japan's Cultural Design Prize in 1983 for this project.

Ando's other residential projects include the three-story Ishihara House in Osaka, another concrete bearing wall structure with a unique central court surrounded by a glass block membrane. Another three-story residence is the Horiuchi House, which uses a glass block wall as a freestanding screen between the home and street traffic.

He continues to build residences, always with a sense of sanctuary, but he has broadened his palette to include other types of structures. Some of these new directions include the Church of Light and the Church on the Water for Christian worshipers, and the striking Buddhist Water Temple, entered through a staircase piercing a lotus pond. The Children's Museum at Hyogo and the Forest of Tombs Museum at Kumamoto are remarkable examples of his use of stairs and underground space.

In 1993, Ando received the Japan Art Academy Prize; in 1992, the Carlsberg Architectural Prize in Denmark, adding to the honors already received, including the French Academy of Architecture's Gold Medal in 1989; the Alvar Aalto Medal in 1985; the Mainichi Art Prize in 1987 for the Chapel on Mt. Rokko; the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize, and the Japanese Ministry of Education's prize to encourage new talent in the fine arts in 1986. Ando is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the American Institute of Architects, the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters.


Read Tadao Ando's Essay

Tadao Ando is that rare architect who combines artistic and intellectual sensitivity in a single individual capable of producing buildings, large and small, that both serve and inspire. His powerful inner vision, ignores whatever movements, schools or styles that might be current, creating buildings with form and composition related to the kind of life that will be lived there.

At an age when most architects are beginning to do their first serious works, Ando has accomplished an extraordinary body of work, primarily in his native Japan, that already sets him apart. Working with smooth-as-silk concrete, Ando creates spaces using walls that he defines as the most basic element of architecture, but also the most enriching. In spite of his consistent use of materials and the elements of pillar, wall, and vault, his different combinations of these elements always prove exciting and dynamic. His design concepts and materials have linked international Modernism to the Japanese tradition of aesthetics. His dedication and understanding of the importance of craftsmanship have earned him the appellation of builder as well as architect.

He is accomplishing his self-imposed mission to restore the unity between house and nature. Using the most basic geometric forms, he creates microcosms for the individual with ever changing patterns of light. But far more than achieving some abstract design concept, his architecture is a reflection of a fundamental process of building something for habitation.

Ando's architecture is an assemblage of artistically composed surprises in space and form. There is never a predictable moment as one moves through his buildings. He refuses to be bound by convention. Originality is his medium and his personal view of the world is his source of inspiration.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize honors Tadao Ando not only for works completed, but also for future projects that when realized, will most certainly further enrich the art of architecture.


Jury Members

J. Carter Brown (Chairman)
Giovanni Agnelli
Charles Correa
Frank Gehry
Ada Louise Huxtable
Toshio Nakamura
Lord Rothschild
Bill Lacy (Secretary to the Jury)

The Grand Trianon and Chateau of Versailles, Versailles, France

Versailles is world famous as France's site of the most lavish palace and gardens, possibly the greatest monument to absolute monarchy and the culmination of French Classicism. In the twentieth century, it was the site of the signing of a treaty in 1919, ending the First World War.

Originally, a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII was on the site in 1624. Over most of the rest of that century, new structures were built and added by Louis XIV, who in 1682 made it not only the court residence but also the seat of government. In fact, Versailles was the capital of France for nearly a century. The architects of the Sun King Louis XIV were Louis Le Vau in the early years, and then Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who added the enormous north and south wings, the Chapel and the famous Hall of Mirrors. Charles Le Brun supervised the decoration, and the landscaping was planned by Le Notre, who also designed the Tuileries Gardens. It was Louis XIV who had the small palace of stone and pink marble, known as the Grand Trianon, built in 1687 as a less formal retreat. Louis XV was still making additions to the Chateau in 1770 when he had Jacques Gabriel design the opera house.

The presentation of the Pritzker Architecture Prize to architect Tadao Ando was made by Jay A. Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, in the Grand Trianon which was being used for the occasion by special authorization of the President of French Republic. It is usually reserved for official French government functions.

Following the presentation, ceremony guests continued on to the south wing of the Chateau of Versailles for a formal dinner served in the Hall of Battles. This hall, some 390 feet long by 43 feet wide, and two stories tall, was opened by King Louis Philippe in 1837 and contains 33 large paintings of historic scenes depicting French victories, including the earliest by Clovis in 496 C.E. to the 1809 victory of Napoleon at Wagram.


Read Tadao Ando's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read Jay Pritzker's Ceremony Speech

Read Philippe Douste-Blazy's Ceremony Speech


tadao ando ceremony
Tadao Ando and Jay Pritzker


Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony