“I think all good architecture should challenge you, make you start asking questions. You don't have to understand it. You may not like it. That's okay.”
If you've read my thoughts on Dieter Rams and Jony Ive over on my industrial design page, you probably won't be surprised that the first person I'm discussing here is Tadao Ando. Ando takes a strikingly similar approach to his work, striping away all non-essential elements and allowing nothing to get in the way of the purpose and clarity of his structures. I find his work simply incredible.
And if you happen to find yourself in Western Massachusetts (where I live), you can actually see a new Ando-designed building - the recent addition to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. It's been a favorite spot of mine since childhood, and definitely worth a visit.
Here are a few of my favorite Ando works. I hope you find them as beautiful as I do.
Two of my favorite examples of Japanese-inspired architecture are Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, in Plano, Illinois (left), and Eero Saarinen’s Miller House, in Columbus, Indiana (right).
Both structures borrow from the architecture of traditional Japanese homes in a number of obvious ways - open floor plans, direct access to nature (the full glass walls used by van der Rohe and Saarinen replacing the sliding shoji doors in Japanese homes), a clear resolution to all components, an uncompromising simplicity - but a closer look at both structures shows just how much underlying influence was taking place when they designed them.
For Farnsworth House, the influence comes in the form of proportion. In a traditional Japanese home, the size of a room is determined by the unit of the tatami mat, with each region of Japan having their own sized tatami. For example, in the Nagoya region of Japan, a room is typically 4 1/2 mats, 6 mats, or 8 mats in size, with the number of rooms determining the size of the overall structure. For Farnsworth House, van der Rohe determined the overall floor plan by the size of the travertine floor slabs of the main structure, with the columns being exactly 8 slabs apart from each other, including two extra slabs on each end.
For Saarinen, that influence can be seen in the use of the sunken "conversation pit" that dominates Miller House's open living room, mimicking the sunken hearth in a traditional Japanese home (called an irori) that served as the central eating and gathering area. In a 1960 speech he delivered in Munich, Saarinen described the interior of his ideal home as such: “I would solve the problem of furniture, with its inevitable ‘slum of legs,’ by eliminating it completely from the living room. Instead I would create a sunken area more or less in the middle of the living room, consisting of two large steps, carpeted like the rest of the room in neutral color.”
Circling back to Tadao Ando, he once said, "I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture." I think that's why I love these homes, and Japanese architecture in general: simplicity, elegance, purpose, thoughtfulness - qualities I always want to be surrounded by.
The following photos are of a home in the Mukainada neighborhood of Hiroshima, Japan designed by FujiwaraMuro Architects, a five-man design firm in Osaka. The designers (led by Shintaro Fujiwara and Yoshio Muro) created a circular concrete and wood path that loops through both the building and the garden for an elderly couple who wanted a home that could accommodate their passion for gardening.
The outside path is set at the same height as the building's floor, which turns to a ring of wood that is different to the rest of the wood flooring in the interior. The concrete section of the ring is punctured by round planting beds of various sizes where flowers and trees will grow and alter the relationship between the garden and the structure.
I hope you enjoy. Please note that all photography was taken by Toshiyuki Yano for the design website dezeen.com.
Eero Saarinen is experiencing a bit of a resurgence recently. First, there was the excellent PBS American Masters film Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, which you should definitely see if you get the chance. Next, is a $265 million dollar renovation to Saarinen's 1962 Trans World Flight Center at New York’s Kennedy airport, which broke ground in December 2016 and will fully restore the complex into a 500-room luxury hotel.
Then there are smaller stories of how Saarinen's work continues to inspire, like this story about the first couple to be wed at Saarinen's extraordinary chapel on the campus of MIT, and the recent improvements to one of his most famous works, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Here are a few examples of Eero Saarinen's amazing work that I find particularly beautiful.