Tadao Ando – Church of the Light

Probably one of my absolute favorite architects is Tadao Ando. I’m enchanted by Brutalist architecture and how it makes me feel. It strips all the non-essentials. The focus is on the light, materials, and flow of space and simplicity.

Tadao Ando Church of Light
Tadao Ando. Church of the Light. Ibaraki, Japan. Photo by Tijana.

Church of the Light

It’s worth traveling across the world just to see it – Ando’s Church of the Light. I had planned to visit well in advance. For the architecture lovers there are only a few slots available to visit once a month. Even though it’s a masterpiece, its core purpose is to serve the parishioners. I respect preserving the original purpose and integrity of the church. Once a month there are a few precious hours that you can enjoy it as an architectural gem. I sincerely appreciate the generous staff for opening the Church of the Light for us. Even for just for a precious few hours, we could experience this unique space. Undoubtedly, its utmost simplicity speaks volumes. The minimalist design makes it achingly profound.

All at once, I felt an immense sense of calm and peace. Even though it is on a tiny slot of land, the space creates its own universe. The architecture makes me feel elated.

Tadao Ando Church of Light
This is how happiness looks like. Japan.

As all things artificial, buildings are destined to weather and someday disappear. One might even say that the history of architecture represents humanity’s will to resist this fate. Personally, however, what I wish to create are buildings that will live on internally, not in substance or form, but as memories within people’s hearts.

Tadao Ando

The Architect, Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando is a Japanese self-taught architect. Back in 1995, he won the Pritzker Prize for architecture. Ando worked as a boxer before becoming an architect. He has achieved phenomenal work despite never having formal training in the field. During his adolescence, he was struck by the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel and decided to end his boxing career to pursue architecture.

My response to the building was a purely emotional one as I had no knowledge of the technical and cultural complexities of architecture. I was shocked yet intrigued to know that architecture could induce a feeling akin to exploring a whole new world.

Ando’s response on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture

Ando’s architectural style emphasizes nothingness to represent the beauty of simplicity. The simplicity of his architecture focuses on the sensation of physical experiences. This concept is mainly influenced by Japanese culture. Furthermore, Ando’s bulidings primarily constructed with concrete in order to enact the idea of simplicity.

NOTE: Please remember, if you go, that you cannot see it without reserving time in advance. This is their website with all the information.

Where is It?


  • Thalia

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    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you, I am glad that you are enjoying it.

  • Andrej

    Ando is amazing. It’s weird – as a general rule of thumb, the style of architecture he advocated and worked with is not my most favorite of all times – but his philosophy and approach made it all come together perfectly. Like Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum or his amazing Meditation Space.

    But I guess that it comes down to Japanese sensibility and their sense of importance of absence, the rhythm of space and emptiness – the “ma”. Their interior design, their ikebana flower arrangements and much more, all is based on that flow. I see a lot of that in Ando’s architecture.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      This is so exquisitely written Andrej. I so much enjoyed your response. At first glance, his style might look so bare, and use of the concreate as a very basic material can trigger in some people lack of appreciation (or understanding). Probably is to many people. Besides visually, ho the space moves, light and so on I judge the architecture on how it makes me feel. Since everything non-essential is stripped, you are left without clutter. I never understood before how much clutter do we have, even I try to keep my house neat. Obviously, I prefer contemporary architecture, but I can be taken with a more traditional one if it makes me feel something or I appreciate the skill of the architect and thought process.

      With Ando, somehow I calm down, and there is sense of wonder. Everything is so airy that I am very present in moment. For architecture to impact me like that it is an achievement. The fact that he is self thaought, is mesmerizing. It was his true calling that he was lucky to find and gift us with so many marvelous buildings.

      I would love to see Naosima, I missed it this time. The whole that concept of art island is incredible. I always loved the roof of his Meditation Space.

      Yes, exploring the concept of absence is marvelous. And your examples were so beautiful. Thank you for gifting me the joyful read.

      • Andrej

        Oh, no – thank *you* for providing the initial joyous read – and your reply to my comment, it added so much value to it.

        It’s true, mostly stripped-down, concrete constructions are an acquired taste and just not everyone’s cup of tea. I guess it takes a very thorough thought process to reach to the very core of their meaning and purpose – which is, as you said, to get rid of the excess, superfluous. They should be thought of as bare white walls – on their own, they barely mean a thing and are even plain. But they work great as a framework for human action and creativity, they are backdrops for our own doing and how we interpret the space and what we do with it. So it’s a completely different concept to traditional, classical architecture, it involves the human factor in quite a different way., by asking us to be more active, perhaps.

        Ando *is* calming. I think that’s generally the quality Japenese creators possess, whether it’s architecture, ukiyoe painting , landscape design, private life rituals etc. Oh, and thank you for mentioning the sense of wonder – that is very true of his work.

        There was this unforgettable image of Naoshima with sakura trees just above the iconic open roof. A beautiful sight.

        • zestandcuriosity (author)

          It is interesting that you mentioned – that appreciation to something is an acquired taste. For me is interesting how we get there, and that thot process and mind journey. Sometimes it is matter of education and sometimes it is matter of personal evolution. Sometimes we need something very different in life. I love how you stated it – getting rid of excess, and superfluous. I loved your example of the white wall. So many things are in our mind. And how architecture gets us involved. It is a constant (and ever evolving) interaction.

          Talking about absence – in this case of perfection – there is another wonderful concept of Wabi-sabi in Japan. Wabi-sabi is a philosophy or point of view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. It is such a uniquely Japanese characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and I find it so wonderful.

          • Andrej

            Very true, it’s always different – for different people – how we get to a certain understanding, a new understanding of a thing or a phenomena, that seems to be the opposite of what we think of as our tastes, aspirations, values, etc. I can only speak for myself, and in case of Ando and numerous other things it really was a gradual evolution – not sure towards what, if there is such a thing as “towards” – but at some point I just felt a very strong yearning for that kind of philosophy of architecture.

            Thank you for reminding me of wabi-sabi, a wonderful concept. Asians in general, but especially Japanese, have so many beautifully worded concepts and phrases for incredibly specific states of being. It’s like their entire culture is fine-tuned to detect the most delicate and subtle phases.

          • zestandcuriosity (author)

            Isn’t it interesting when there is a particular word to describe some phenomena, feeling or experience? Sometimes those words are untranslatable. The language itself is an art form.

            Evolution of the tastes is also fascinating. I have also had personal journeys about many things in life and sometimes even completely changed my opinions. The more I knew about something it impacted the way I think. Or it changed even the way I see the world. Somethings are still innate, and don’t change. But I also love hearing different opinions, at least you can learn something, even you might end disagreeing. Tastes in art are ever evolving – the more you see it, more you expand. And above everything I do appreciate finding new artists, expressions and points of view. I find it endlessly fascinating. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful thoughts Andrej!

  • Andrej

    You are very welcome, again! I think these are exciting times for art, no matter the prevailing sentiment that might suggest otherwise. It’s diverse, there’s a lot going on and a lot of it is being produced still. I was reading Michaelangelo’s “Letters” recently, and in one of them, addressed to the Pope who commissioned him, he explicitly states “times are not favorable for artists.” Made me laugh, even in Renaissance that was the general feeling. So yeah. We should embrace the times for what they are.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      What a delightful little gem of correspondence between Michaelangelo and Pope. Thank you for sharing Andrej. Art forms and expressions had changed since then, but the sentiment is the same.

      Art is always a reflection of the time and the inner word and inspiration of the artist. I think through art we get more knowledge about history, too. In more traditional styles of art, we can very much tell what people wore, or ate, or in which kind of places they lived and how they interacted.

      Photography started to document life in a direct replication form, and it became an art form itself. And yet, from the cavemen onwards – through art – we know more about the past. I was always fascinated by portraits that were commissioned by (mostly influential) families. I loved when the artist selects their own subjects, which was also telling. what captivated them When the artist has subject to immortalize it with art.

      Back to commissioned portraits. And time after time, those family heirlooms end in museums. So we have a bunch of people who never knew each other could be from different times (or eras) or countries, and by the fate of museum collections end up all together in one room. If these paintings would talk, I wonder what they would say then?

      I would love to hear those stories.

  • svetislav

    In the flash of the cross God is within reach.

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      It is one of the most amazing places where I have been. And, it was the simplest. That kind of profound simplicity is very hard to achieve. How it makes you feel is sacred.

  • Noelene

    Wonderful 🌟 Thank you 🙏

    • zestandcuriosity (author)

      Thank you so much, Noelene! I a so glad that you have enjoyed it. Tadao Ando is one of my favorite architects. More about the architecture coming soon.

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