The poetry of Tadao Ando's raw concrete
Rough and essential. Rigorous and geometric. Tadao Ando’s architectural style is the result of the original way he works with concrete. Luigi Cocco, the engineer who has always worked alongside Ando in his Italian projects, guides us in a close-up look at the construction techniques used by the Japanese master What construction materials are traditionally used in Japanese architecture?
In Japan, traditionally timber was used for civil constructions, partly because it is in plentiful supply there and partly for seismic reasons as it is very elastic. When they began to build tall buildings, however, they moved from timber to metal and started to make structures in steel that were then clad in concrete for fire protection. For the Japanese, concrete was always seen as a secondary material, utilitarian and functional, used for the more basic, cheaper constructions.
How does Ando fit into this construction tradition?
Ando has created his own way of using concrete, altering the approach that in Japan was regarded a cheap technology involving the use of formwork panels measuring 900 x 1800 mm. These panels, used in Japan to pour the concrete for retaining walls or for simple, cheap constructions were the same wooden panels originally used for making tatami mats, the traditional Japanese flooring. These rectangular panels in lightweight wood, ply or chipboard, and covered in woven reed straw traditionally measured 900 x 1800 mm, more or less equivalent to the space occupied by a person lying down. Ando, having access to this technology, used by any ordinary Japanese builder, interpreted the simple geometry and arranged it to create his architecture.
So that accounts for the rigorous geometric rhythm of his architectural style…
Yes — using the traditional formwork panel as a dimensional unit, his buildings are generally multiples of the basic 90 x 1800 mm module.
How did you receive and adapt in Italy the building technology put forward by Ando?
When we met Ando for the first time in 1992, to work on the project to extend Villa Pastega Manera, in Italy, concrete was not considered a poor material and was treated using more advanced technology. While in Japan, using very thin shuttering panels, derived from chipboard panels for tatami, they used a lot of form ties to prevent the panel deforming during the concrete casting, our technology allowed us to reduce the number of form ties, because we were already using much stiffer panels. The holes from the ties in the formwork are visible on the surface of the concrete. If we look at Punta della Dogana, for example, one row of holes is real, and technically served for casting, while one row is false, we have made holes to recreate the geometric design that Ando wanted. Opening page: the photo highlights the perfect alignment of four concrete panels. The holes of the form ties for the shuttering appear equidistant from one another, on each panel. This spread, right: Punta della Dogana, central patio on the first floor, access ramp between the two bays for creating the connection to the exhibition areas. Below: Punta della Dogana, ground floor, second exhibition hall, full height with structure in concrete to hide the services. The structure shows the perfect alignment of the panels both horizontally and vertically