Hailing from Japan, Land of the Rising Sun, Tadao Ando is nothing short of a visionary, an architect whose creations transcend the conventional boundaries of design. With an innate ability to fuse the natural world with the man-made, he has etched his signature on the canvas of architecture, weaving a narrative of purity, simplicity, and unparalleled connection to the environment.
At the core of Ando’s design philosophy lies the profound concept of “Ma,” a Japanese term that encapsulates the space between objects, the essence of void. In Ando’s world, empty spaces are as significant as the structures they inhabit. By manipulating the interplay of light, shadow, and open spaces, he crafts architectural compositions that exude a sense of tranquility. Renowned for his fondness for concrete, Ando beautifully incorporates this monochromatic material into The Shinmonzen, and it serves as a canvas upon which he paints warmth, serenity, and timelessness. In our conversation, Tadao Ando, gives us insight into his design process.
Could you describe the design concept behind The Shinmonzen and how it harmonizes with its surroundings?
Tadao Ando: The creation of The Shinmonzen was a passionate endeavor spanning a decade in the making. I envisioned it as a harmonious blend of history, contemporary innovation, and future aspirations. This hotel, in my view, encapsulates the very soul of Kyoto while also resonating with the tastes of cosmopolitan travelers. Our aim was to reimagine traditional Japanese architecture, celebrating its rich heritage while imbuing it with a contemporary flair.
What were the main challenges you faced during the construction of The Shinmonzen, and how did you overcome them?
Tadao Ando: Gion stands as a district sanctified by Kyoto City for its cherished traditions. Consequently, we undertook the responsibility of fashioning a wooden exterior adorned with iconic Japanese kawara roof tiles, paying homage to the district’s heritage. While we wholeheartedly embraced these traditional features on the exterior, our true test lay in crafting a thoroughly contemporary interior concealed within this time-honored façade.
How did you incorporate traditional Japanese architectural elements into the design of The Shinmonzen while still maintaining a contemporary feel?
Tadao Ando: The Shinmonzen beautifully reveres its historical roots through its low-rise symmetry, gracefully curved roof tiles, and rich, dark, latticed timber exterior, all seamlessly integrated within the culturally vibrant Gion district. However, as you venture indoors, a transformative experience awaits you in a space firmly oriented towards the future. Inside, the nine distinctive guestrooms beckon with individualized designs and characters, skillfully striking a captivating equilibrium between Western and Eastern inspirations, forging a harmonious fusion of Kyoto’s aesthetic essence with a touch of European DNA.
Can you discuss the role of natural light in the design of The Shinmonzen and how it enhances the overall experience for guests?
Tadao Ando: The integral role of natural light in The Shinmonzen’s design cannot be overstated. Drawing inspiration from the concept of a roji, the elongated contemporary interior corridor showcases exposed concrete surfaces and meticulously crafted side grilles, purposefully engineered to invite and channel natural light throughout the space. This dance between light and shadow orchestrates a one-of-a-kind ambiance, elevating the overall guest experience to new heights.
How does The Shinmonzen contribute to the preservation and celebration of Kyoto’s cultural heritage?
Tadao Ando: Throughout our design journey, our aim was to craft a sanctuary that caters to the discerning tastes of contemporary travelers, all the while paying deep homage to Kyoto’s venerable traditions and enduring legacy. The Shinmonzen epitomizes a finely woven tapestry, seamlessly interlacing the bygone era, the current zeitgeist, and the unfolding horizon. It not only encapsulates the very essence of Kyoto but also beckons to cosmopolitan inclinations, thereby playing a pivotal role in the conservation and exaltation of the city’s cultural heritage.
How did you consider the needs and preferences of guests when designing the interior spaces of The Shinmonzen?
Tadao Ando: The nine distinctive suites nestled within the Shinmonzen hotel were meticulously crafted to exude an air of spaciousness and contemporary luxury. Here, guests are granted the privilege of choice, opting between plush Western-style beds or the traditional comfort of low-rise futons laid upon tatami mats, all while relishing private balconies that gaze out upon the tranquil Shirakawa River. Inside, the interiors come to life with the grace of traditional sliding paper shoji screens, angular ceramic wall vases, and a sumptuous combination of materials, presenting a bespoke and tailor-made encounter for every guest.
What kind of experiences or emotions do you hope guests will take away from their stay at The Shinmonzen?
Tadao Ando: In these challenging times, my aspiration is for our esteemed guests to discover a sanctuary of solace and tranquility within the embrace of The Shinmonzen. I would like it to beckons as a haven, a place where the harmonious marriage of traditional and contemporary Kyoto awaits, ready to inspire memories and foster a bond with this storied city.
What was the key moment in your life when you knew you wanted to be an architect?
Tadao Ando: My passion for architecture was kindled when I was 14 years old. It was during the course of a renovation project, which involved the addition of a second floor to the home I shared with my grandmother, that I became acutely aware of the potent and transformative power of architecture. What truly captivated me was the remarkable ability of natural light to wield its magic upon a space. The commitment and artistry of the carpenters involved in the project added fuel to my interest in the world of building design.
How has your style of architecture changed over the years?
Tadao Ando: Although the scope of my endeavors has grown over time, my core philosophy has remained the same: the pursuit of achieving a harmonious coexistence between architecture and its environment. I endeavor to craft spaces that resonate with the unique spirit and beauty of each locale.
By whom have you been most influenced?
Tadao Ando: I draw inspiration from the works of architectural greats like Le Corbusier and the timeless beauty of ancient structures like the Parthenon and the Pantheon.
What is the feeling you always try to instill in your architecture?
Tadao Ando: My goal is to instill sensibilities for the “genius loci,” meaning the spirit of the place.
Would you give us a glimpse into your latest project?
Tadao Ando: The Bourse de Commerce in the heart of Paris is a recently opened Art Museum designed by my team and myself. Much like The Shinmonzen, it adheres to a shared philosophy, where it embraces a rich historical legacy and reinterprets it for the generations yet to come. This project represents a bridge between cultural heritage and contemporary design, ensuring that the echoes of the past continue to inspire and shape the future of architecture.
Raquel Baldelomar is an entrepreneur, author and journalist. She is author of Sugar Crush (HarperCollins, 2015). Her journalism focuses on how travel leads to a unique kind of productivity, creativity and wellness. She can be found at https://www.instagram.com/rbaldelomar.
Images are author’s own, except where licensed.