SOME/ARCHITECTURE : 'CHURCH OF LIGHT' OSAKA, JAPAN / TADAO ANDO
For those who have travelled through the architecture and spaces of Tadao Andō; be it by means of physical experience, memory, simulacra or an amalgamation of the above; perhaps its feasible to speak in consensus that one cannot help but detect the deep sensitivity of the architect to the elements in a primeval sense, particularly the element of light and it’s consequent shadow. If, to paraphrase Hejduk, an inner space is but the shell of the inner thought of the architect; with Andō one can discern an ethos which reveres the elemental, the essential, whilst holding an affinity to the sensory and haptic pleasures of light and concrete respectively.
Although as time passes and these initial impressions are scrutinized, it becomes clear that these ubiquitous observations and their corresponding platitudes are perhaps too obvious to penetrate the deepest essences of his work. Perhaps to be just as banal, this sensitivity to the light may be read more so as an fundamental affinity to the dark; the dark preceding light that is; an ideology which of course has held prevailing ubiquitousness in discussions involving modern art (since Malevich) and pertinently seems to hold a prevailing presence within discussions of Japanese aesthetics (at least perhaps since Tanazaki). Although unlike the traditional Japanese houses where darkness is tempered with the aid of deep eaves and shoji screens, Andō sculpts his
darkness with reinforced concrete in a modular assembly. A technique which serves to striate the vertexes and trajectories of the primary Euclidean geometries which constitute his architecture. Ordered and enveloping solids are created that are formally reverent to the regional terrain whilst embracing and shaping the ‘inner void’. This ‘inner void’ captured seems to mimic an encouraged introspection with a spatial allowance for interstitial and restrained light as opposed to vast open outlooks. Countervailed by his prevalent use of courtyards - this allows for the elimination of extrospective glazing as primary light sources and permits the light to enter the building from all orientations -from within.
My account of Andō in this instance is primarily empirical and perhaps sensationalist. Embedded within the labyrinthine sprawling streets of Ibaraki, I visited the Church of the Light on a gelid yet invigorating winter day. It was surreal to witness building under our collective sun after much exposure to the building under various sources of digital light. Upon entering the space, I felt as though I had entered a space akin to the inner space of a camera. After all in an etymological sense, the word and device of the ‘camera’ as we know it today finds its origins in the Latin camera (chamber) and obscura (darkened), the consolidated expression camera obscura coined by German polymath Johannes Kepler only in the 1600s. After a further investigation into the spatial associations and characteristics of the camera as a chamber (or chamber as a camera), although perhaps tenuous, I could not help but acknowledge that the heightened illumination of spare light in Andō’s architecture was precisely possible incommensurate with the abundance of darkness. And this is a darkness which is fundamental; before the shadow. Achromatic extremes of blacks and whites are seldom (if ever) used in his work yet are ever naturally prevalent as if by design. The conciliating greys between drew my
awareness concurrently to the fundamental darkness and exposing light which constitute our seen world as Virilio has postulated, “Everything in this sunlit world is dedicated to speed. Even the tomb contains the instruments of dromology…The departure of the animating soul leaves the body motionless, but… the point is not to see the body still moving since everything goes on moving.”
From my limited experience, the ascertained primordiality innate in Andō’s architecture of ‘rudiments’ does have sepulchral associations; after all, the origins of architecture in a similar primordial sense have oft been traced to funerary edifices. I found that his spaces contained the funereality of a sepulchre; and as a monument that serves to imbue memory, it rouses an atavistic memory… tracing one’s acknowledgement to the role of light in our visible world and the corresponding speed (movement) which dictates it, further eliciting suspicions of resultant perceived verisimilitudes. These are all but facets of many which further culminate to punctuate the opposing yet serene stasis essential to Andō’s architecture of inner voids.