Poetics of Light in Architecture  Term Paper

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It is impossible to have one without the other. The progression of shadows is used to indicate the passage of time in Ando's work. One can watch the progression of shadow across a light piece of concrete and track the passage of time.

It can be said that light represents the concept of somethingness and shadow represents the concept of nothingness. It is the nothingness that humans seek to understand in their spiritual endeavors. The world of somethingness represents the reality that we know in our physical world. Light allows us to see our world and the things in it. Darkness, however, masks these objects. The objects themselves are still there, only we cannot see them until it is light again. Shadow represents the human journey into the nothingness of the soul. When we sit in the shadow and cannot see our physical world, we are forced to confront the darker reaches of our soul. The line between the light and the dark can be seen as the line between somethingness and nothingness. Although we fear the darkness, humans are on a constant quest to seek it.

The use of the effects of light on water, nature, colour, and shadow are important elements to consider in any design project. However, they are especially important when the space will be used for religious or spiritual purposes. Tadao Ando was an expert in the use of light with these various elements. He used these elements together to create a world where the person could experience solitude, yet a sense of oneness with the rest of humanity. He gave the visitor a sense of light and the passage of time. He created pristine lines between light and darkness. He used light and reflection to create a feeling of inner peace and a source for contemplation. Ando was a master at the use of simplicity of form and light to create a sanctuary where the visitor could experience a connection with the light. The following will examine how Ando used these principles in the creation of three of his most famous religious works.

Light Environment in Ando's Religious Buildings

It is necessary to return to the point where the interplay of light and dark reveals forms, and in this way to bring richness back into architectural space.

Yet, the richness and depth of darkness has disappeared from our consciousness, and the subtle nuances that light and darkness engender, their spatial resonance - these are almost forgotten. Today, when all is cast in homogeneous light, I am committed to pursuing the interrelationship of light and darkness. Light, whose beauty within darkness is as of jewels that one might cup in one's hands; light that, hollowing out darkness and piercing our bodies, blows life into 'place'."

- Tadao Ando (1990, 1993)

Church of Light

The Church of Light was completed in 1989 and is located in the quiet suburb of Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan. It is an addition to an earlier structure made of wood. When Ando was first contracted for the project, he faced several challenges. The first is that the structure had to be completed with a minimal budget. Yet, it still needed to reflect the sacredness and power that it intended to convey. In order to meet the budgetary requirements, Ando eliminated all adornments. He combined simple architectural elements to create a womb-like feeling for those that wished to meditate.

The church itself is a simple concrete rectangular box with a free-standing wall that is 15 degrees relative to the long side of the church. This creates a separate entryway where the visitor is forced to turn 180 degrees to face the altar. The structure is relatively dark and is illuminated by an opening in the shape of a cross behind the altar. The opening creates a cross of light that illuminates the space, reinforcing the sense of sacredness. The light literally pierces its way through the darkness. This creates a very dramatic space.

The furnishings are simple black oil stained benches that emphasize the simplicity of the structure. The light of the crucifix creates movement as the angle of light changes throughout the day. The cold feeling of the concrete is a stark contrast to the warmth of the wood furnishings and the cross of light. The space is simple and pure, yet creates tension through the use of contrasts.

Church On The Water

Church on the water has a feeling of stillness, without the tension of Church of Light. It uses a combination of concrete, glass and steel to create a sense of stillness and serenity. Church on the Water is located at the foot of the Yubari Mountains. Church on the Water is located in Tomamu, east of Sapporo, on the Island of Hokkaido. It was designed between 1985 and 1988. It only took five months to complete. Light, serenity, and space are the key aesthetic elements of Ando's work. The church sits on a large pond that is in a clearing in a beech forest. There is a resort hotel neat the church. The pond steps down towards a small river.

Like Church of the Light, this work uses geometric simplicity to achieve a sense of sacred space. The building consists of two overlapping cubes. The larger cube faces the pond and serves as the sanctuary. A semi-circular spiral stairway connects the two cubes. Ando wished to separate this space from the materialism of the hotel, so he used an L-shaped wall to accomplish this. A cross sits in the water just outside the sanctuary. One of the key elements of Ando's work is the experience that visitors have when they enter the space. In church of the light, the sight of the cross and the darkness is meant to inspire a sense of awe. Church on the Water has a similar effect as the visitor enters the building. The visitor enters the building and finds themselves in a glass and steel cube. Four large crosses direct the attention upwards. The path leads up and around the crosses. This portion is well-lit, which contrasts to the darkness as the visitor descends the spiral staircase to the chapel below. The visitor is then presented with a view of the pond and a steel cross in the middle of the water

One of the key observations that can be made about Ando's work is that he tends to use concrete boxes to enclose and darken space, and glass to provide light and the sense of openness. With both the church of the Light and Church on the Water, the visitor enters a brightly lit space and then must enter a darker chapel area for meditation. Ando's work is often thematic in the sense that it embodies a part of the transformative spiritual process. For instance, Church on the water uses a spiral circular path to create tension and suspense. Then the person is rewarded with the awe-inspiring view of the lake. The use of water and all of its characteristics of reflection, movement, and life giving properties create the perfect setting for meditation and connecting to source. The sanctuaries are typically dark and look onto a spectacular source of light. There is a sense of coming out of the darkness and into the light.

The Water Temple

The water temple is the third piece that we will examine. Once again, the visitor enters through a stairway that parts a lotus-filled pool. The pool is actually the roof of the ceremonial rooms, which are underground. The feature that stands out about Water Temple is the departure from the monochromatic palate usually seen in Ando's work. The monochromatic use of concrete, steel, and glass lend a sense of east meets west to the buildings. Monochromatic colour schemes reflect the monochromatic work of the Zen artists. The chapel in Water Temple is vermillion, rather than the monochromatic palette typically found.

When one thinks of traditional Japanese art and architecture, they envision a structure made of natural materials, such as wood, bamboo, rice paper. However, this is where Ando's work departs from traditional Japanese design. Ando's simple concrete boxes are nothing like what one thinks of as Japanese sacred space. He does this because he feels that the material's intrinsic nature heightens the viewer's experience. However, Ando was a genius in his ability to seamlessly blend modern materials and design elements into the natural setting. The concrete walls in Ando's works are placed purposefully and are used to frame the natural elements of the work. This blend creates a Zen-like feel to the space. Ando uses natural light as much as possible, rather than closing it out and then enhancing it with artificial light. Surfaces are varnished or polished to allow the light to dance on them.


As one examines Ando's work, it is easy to see the influence of his early travels. The design of culturally appropriate sacred space is…

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