Tadao Ando is world-famous for his innovative buildings made of cast concrete. As his hometown is Osaka, there are many architectural works by Mr. Ando in the Kansai region. Here are some spots where you can experience culture and art while enjoying his distinctive architectural designs.
１．【KOBE】Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
Opened in 2002 as a symbol of “cultural recovery” from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Nicknamed the “Art Museum,” it houses approximately 10,000 works of art, including modern sculptures and prints from Japan and abroad. In addition to exhibiting these works of art, another highlight of the museum is the building designed by Mr. Ando, which is a simple but gigantic labyrinth-like structure that creates changes in light. Visitors can savor a complex and diverse spatial experience in a place of fusion of various art forms.
After passing through the entrance hall with its calm atmosphere, visitors are greeted by a glass-walled corridor surrounding the exhibition rooms, which are flooded with natural light, and other various parts of the building, each with a richly shaded expression.
The “circular terrace,” the symbol of the museum, connects the first basement floor to the outdoor space on the second floor, linking the exhibition buildings, gallery buildings, and the sea and mountains. The cast concrete forms a beautiful spiral, creating shades of light and shadow.
In 2019, a second exhibition building (Ando Gallery) opened to showcase Ando’s architecture. With exhibits of architectural models of his masterpieces such as “Sumiyoshi Row Houses” and “Church of Light,” as well as introductions to various projects in Japan and abroad, this is an unmissable spot for visitors to learn about Ando’s work.
The “Sea Deck,” a viewing space on the third floor of the outdoor space, appears as if it extends out to sea. A large green apple sculpture, which Mr. Ando designed based on the poem “Youth” by the American poet Samuel Ullman, is placed here.
The fourth floor also includes the “Mountain Deck” and the “Wind Deck”. On the other side of the first floor entrance, there is a large staircase leading up to the outdoor areas on the second and third floors, where visitors can sit with their backs to the museum and look out over the ocean spread out before them.
The greatest charm of this museum is that it changes its appearance in various ways depending on the time and season you visit, changing both in terms of getting lost and inconvenience. And the pleasure of finding this museum architectural gimmick! Why not visit to savor a spatial experience that can only be felt at any given moment?
1-1-1, Wakinohamakaigandori, Chuo-ku, Kobe, Hyogo [MAP]
8-minute walk from Hanshin Main Line Iwaya Station
２．【KOBE】Chapel of the Wind
It is one of the “church trilogy” designed by Mr. Ando, and was the first church building for him, completed in 1986. Located on top of Mt. Rokko, it is called the “Church of the Wind” because of its refreshing natural surroundings. It was designed and operated as a wedding church for the hotel, but is now closed to the public. It is open to the public during the “ROKKO MEETS ART WALK,” a contemporary art event held every year from late summer to autumn.
The chapel has a rectangular solid tower mounted on a cast concrete frame, a characteristic of Ando’s architecture, and light streaming in through the gaps between the walls and ceiling creates a sacred and serene space. The design originates from the “Notre Dame de Senancq Abbey” in Provence, southern France, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was created after Ando visited the chapel and was impressed that the light shining through the small windows in the rough-hewn stone walls was the star of the spatial presentation.
One of the most distinctive features of the building is the “Colonnade,” a 40-meter colonnaded corridor leading to the chapel. It is made of celadon-colored frosted glass. The colonnade was developed from the colonnade surrounding the courtyard of the “Notre-Dame de Senancq Abbey” in the form of a straight line. The wind blowing through, the surrounding greenery, and the building are fused together to create a fantastic space.
The Church of the Wind is tucked away in the forest on Mt.Rokko. The shadows of the light create a beautiful space, a special spot where an extraordinary time flows. Spend your time listening to the tones of nature and feeling the wind blowing through the air. From the top of Mt. Rokko, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Kobe and Osaka.
The church is normally closed to the public and will be open only during the “ROKKO MEETS ART WALK” event. For more details about the event, please check the website. Don’t miss this rare opportunity!
1878-78, Nishitaniyama, Rokkosan-cho, Nada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo [MAP]
Take the Kobe City Bus from Hanshin Main Line Mikage Station
and get off at the Rokko Cable Shita stop.
Ride the Rokko Cable Car to the top.
20-minute walk from Rokko Sanjo Station.
３．【OSAKA】Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest
“I want children to pick up a variety of books and develop unlimited creativity and curiosity. I want them to spontaneously come into contact with the words, feelings, and ideas in books and learn that there are people and lifestyles in the world that are different from their own”. With this in mind, architect Tadao Ando designed the building himself, donated it to the City of Osaka, and it was born in Nakanoshima in 2020. Its daily operation is supported by donations from citizens and companies.
The giant blue apple sculpture that stands out on the entrance terrace. The motif is based on the poem “Youth” by the American poet Samuel Ullman, and represents Mr. Ando’s wish that many people will be touched by this symbol of youth full of challenging spirit.
In designing the building, Mr. Ando placed importance on making full use of its location in Nakanoshima, where Osaka’s history and culture are still alive, and on ensuring that children would play a leading role. The building along the Dojima River is made of fair-faced concrete, a characteristic of Ando’s architecture. To the west are the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, the Osaka Central Public Hall, and other cultural and artistic facilities.
The museum is a three-story atrium with staircases and bridge passageways, like a three-dimensional maze. All the walls are covered with wooden bookshelves, creating an exciting atmosphere as if one were to wander into a “forest of books” and search for books. In the “rest room,” a cylindrical space with no concrete floor, video works are shown to arouse children’s interest in books.
The same books displayed on the top shelves are also placed on the lower shelves for browsing. The books are placed on the lower shelves for browsing. All the furniture is made of wood, creating a relaxed atmosphere.
Sculptures of words” are displayed here and there on the bookshelves. Impressive short sentences extracted from books appear in three-dimensional letters in the space. Although a book must be picked up and its pages turned in order to experience its world, children often pass by the bookshelf. We wanted to create an opportunity for children to start reading a book with the charm of a single sentence by slipping a word into their field of vision. This was the idea behind the production.
“Children’s Book Forest” is a place where children and adults alike can immerse themselves in the fascination of books. The facility is a fusion of Ando’s architecture and the riverside scenery of Osaka, the city of water, where visitors can fully enjoy the world of books.
(Advance reservation required for use of facilities. Check the official website of Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest for information on how to enter.)
1-1-28, Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka [MAP]
5-minute walk from Osaka Metro Sakaisuji Line Kitahama Station
４．【KYOTO】Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art
It was built by businessman Shotaro Kaga as a villa from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the early Showa era (1926-1989). Over time, the villa was on the verge of falling into disrepair, but in 1996, in response to calls to preserve the precious architecture and surrounding nature, it was restored to its original state and reopened as an art museum with a new wing designed by Tadao Ando.
The main building portion, designed by Shotaro Kaga, was constructed of wood in the Taisho era and substantially expanded in the early Showa era. The main building incorporates an eclectic mix of techniques, including carved beams and columns.
The upper section of the main building incorporates a half-timber system showing the wood frame characteristic of the English Tudor Gothic style, and is constructed of reinforced concrete with a steel frame for the roof section.
The terrace on the second floor offers a magnificent view of the three rivers flowing through Kizu, Uji, and Katsura, unchanged since its construction.
Designed by Ando, the Jichu-kan addition is connected to the main building by a passageway. The passageway is made of fair-faced concrete with glass walls on the upper four sides and the front. The surrounding seasonal scenery is visible to the eye, creating a sense of harmony between the building and nature.
A small pond with water lilies blooms beside the stairs leading to the Chichu-kan “Chichu-no-Jewel Box. From the window at the end of the long flight of stairs, you can see the pond at the same height as your eye level. Since the building is located on a slope, it is important to be able to enjoy the view from inside the building as well.
The Chichu-kan, named the “Underground Jewel Box” by Mr. Ando, is designed in a cylindrical semi-underground structure to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. The roof above the exhibition space is planted with trees to blend in with the surrounding greenery.
In 2012, a new building, Yamatekan “Box of Dreams,” designed by Ando, was completed. The new building is a box-shaped structure, in contrast to the “Chichu Jewel Box. The straight concrete building is placed so that it is buried in the trees, and like the Chichu-kan, the upper portion is planted to create a sense of unity with nature.
The old and new buildings and the surrounding environment coexist in perfect balance, and you can feel the “rebirth” of the Ando style in this newly revitalized villa.
5-3, Zenihara, Oyamazaki-cho, Otokuni-gun, Kyoto [MAP]
10-minute walk from Hankyu Kyoto Line Oyamazaki Station
５．【KYOTO】Garden of Fine Arts Kyoto
Opened in 1994 as the world’s first painting garden that can be viewed outdoors. Designed by Mr. Ando, this facility exhibits outdoors sturdy ceramic board paintings that reproduce the beauty of masterpieces in their original form. The garden features a waterside setting with large and small waterfalls and ponds, and the atmosphere of the works changes depending on the viewing location, viewpoint, and weather conditions.
The building is on three levels, with a gentle slope leading down from the ground to the second basement level, where visitors view the exhibits in order from the bottom.
On display are a total of eight masterpieces from around the world. Four of them were created for the “International Garden and Greenery Exposition” held in 1990 and displayed in the “Garden of Masterpieces,” a pavilion designed by Mr. Ando. The other four were created for this facility.
Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment,” which is almost full-size and over 13 meters high, can be viewed from all floors of the corridor.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” sandwiched between the sky and the water. The painting is designed to be reflected in the water, and it is also interesting to see how differently the painting looks on the surface of the water.
A doubly enlarged version of the National Treasure, Caricatures of Birds, Beasts, and Humans. The long scroll, read from the right, is displayed so that visitors can appreciate it in a natural flow along the direction of travel.
The works of Van Gogh and Renoir, viewed through windows in the concrete walls, offer a different atmosphere from the paintings. Monet’s “Waterlilies, Morning” is displayed underwater to give visitors an impression of his worldview, and viewing it as if peering into the painting from above is a unique experience. The unique way to enjoy the paintings along with the changes in light and the shimmering surface of the water is only possible with ceramic board paintings.
Designed by Ando, this space takes advantage of the outdoor environment and is a recommended place to experience art in a different way than an indoor museum.
Shimogamo Hangi-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto [MAP]
From Hankyu Kyoto Line Karasuma Station,
transfer over to the Kyoto Municipal Subway and go to Kitayama Station.
It's a 1-minute walk from there.
６．【HIMEJI】Himeji City Museum of Literature
Located northwest of the World Cultural Heritage and National Treasure Himeji Castle, the museum was established in 1991 as a base for all kinds of literary activities, including the collection and study of materials by writers and scholars associated with Himeji and other parts of Harima.
Ando’s unique building design, “designed as a space for circulation and dialogue with literature with the castle in the background,” blends in with the old townscape and creates a new landscape. As the design concept suggests, Himeji Castle, nicknamed “Shirasagijo Castle,” can be viewed from inside the building, making it a special place where visitors can feel Himeji from both inside and outside the building.
The facility consists of the three-story North Wing and the two-story South Wing. The grounds also include the Bokkeitei, a Taisho period Japanese house with a 40-mat Japanese-style room and a tea ceremony room.
The “Himeji Castle Historical Story Corridor” on the first floor of the North Wing introduces the stories and history of Himeji Castle and the region through video and graphics. A total of 26 episodes are displayed in a long arc-shaped corridor, which visitors can appreciate by following the curve.
On the same floor is the “Forest of Words” exhibition room, where visitors can come into contact with the impressive words left by literary figures associated with Harima and their lives, and on the second floor is a corner dedicated to Watsuji Tetsuro, a philosopher born in Himeji City.
The South Wing includes the “Ryotaro Shiba Memorial Room” and a café where visitors can relax.
This glass-walled space seen from the outside is a “yoiko no heya” for parents and children to enjoy together. It is a bright and colorful space like a sunroom. Here, visitors can take off their shoes, read picture books, and play with toys while relaxing. The tapestries and mobiles are inspired by the stories in “Harimakuni Fudoki,” which is also the origin of the name of Himeji.
The landscape where the building stands in harmony with the surrounding nature, blending straight lines and curves, light and shadow, is like a beautiful work of art. The buildings are like beautiful art, blending lines, curves, light, and shadow in harmony with the surrounding nature.
84, Yamanoi-cho, Himeji-shi, Hyogo [MAP]
Take the Shinki bus from Sanyo Electric Railway Line Himeji Station
and alight at Ichinohashi Bungakukan-mae.
It's a 4-minute walk from there.
How was it?
When discussing architecture, Tadao Ando is a must-see. If you travel to Japan, why not experience the world-renowned architecture of Tadao Ando along with sightseeing?