This architectural structure was commissioned to symbolize peace and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the UNESCO's Constitution. Tadao Ando’s “Meditation Space” was chosen from amongst numerous projects submitted by architects worldwide. A self-taught architect, Tadao Ando has won several awards, among which the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995, as well as receiving a gold medal from the French Academy for Architecture.
Beyond the simplicity and refinement characteristic of his architecture, Tadao Ando here creates a symbolic work by using the irradiated granite coming from Hiroshima. Through this, he invites the visitor to reflect on the horror of Hiroshima and hence to meditate upon the destructive power of human kind.
The theme of solitude remains important in Tadao Ando’s work as a result of his personal experience. In all the villas he built, Tadao Ando’s concern was to withdraw the house’s intimate space from the street in order to allow for the inhabitants’ serenity and tranquillity. "Meditation Space", towered over by the immense UNESCO building, allows those working at the Organization to come into a space built on a human scale. In order to enter the structure, the visitor in some sense has to follow an initiatory ‘journey’ guiding them from a ramp to a paved path leading to one of the entrances. The meditation space can be crossed without having to open any doors; the threshold between light and shadow emphasizes a symbolic passage in Ando’s architecture. Inside the space, the visitor can sit upon one of four identical cast-iron chairs with extremely high backs. Once seated upon one of these chairs, the rigidity of the back forces the person to keep straight, in a solemn posture. This incites a contemplation upon oneself; at the same time, the visitor’s gaze turns towards the top of the cylinder. The ceiling is made up of a circular slab that does not cover the totality of the circle, hence letting through a circular stream of light. This subtle use of light dear to Tadao Ando also links to the spirituality propitious to a place of meditation.
Tadao Ando explained the concept of the small space in these terms: « One has to know how to go beyond the differences of race, religion or nationality in order to respect the idea and the way of being of individuals belonging to different cultures and societies. With this cramped space, I attempted to express peaceful cohabitation on earth. »
Through this construction, Tadao Ando shares his anxiety concerning Science, as Hiroshima exemplified: « Perhaps it would be possible to achieve this ultimate dream: reunite all humanity in one single community. However, before this, won’t Science have irrevocably escaped man’s control? »
This structure is Tadao Ando’s first architectural creation in France.
Tadao Ando was born in Osaka on September 13, 1941. Since his birth, he was brought up by his maternal grandmother. At age 14, he carried out his first construction; with the help of carpenters, he extended his grandmother’s house, located in a working-class area of Osaka. He initially designed an upper floor, and later participated directly in the construction. At age 17 he began boxing in order to learn how to defend himself, became a professional, and competed in over a dozen fights. This gave him the means to travel overseas, though he renounced quite quickly to the sport.
Tadao Ando decided to learn about architecture, teaching himself – an extremely rare occurrence in Japan. He bought books on the subject and was fascinated by a work on Le Corbusier. From 1963 to 1968, he traveled and decided to try meeting Le Corbusier, arriving in Paris unfortunately shortly after his death. He nevertheless visited the Swiss Pavilion, the Cité Universitaire, the Villa Savoye in Poissy, in very poor condition. In Marseilles, he visits the Unité d’habitation and the Sénanque abbey. He continued travelling, going to Rome, Athens, India. He does not study architecture, but rather immerses himself in it and attempts to perceive it physically. He is also influenced by important figures such as Louis I. Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and by the written works of historians and critics like Sigfried Giedion and Kenneth Frampton.
In 1969, he established his own agency in Osaka and began by building modest houses. In 1976, he became known thanks to his miniscule "Row House", built on a parcel of land measuring 58 m². Designed as a sort of miniature cloister facing an interior courtyard, it opens towards the sky and is isolated from the bustle of the city with finely worked concrete. In 1987 he is invited to teach at the University of Yale in the USA and in 1997 it is the accolade in Japan, where, even lacking a diploma, he is appointed titular professor at the University of Tokyo.
Strongly marked by the earthquake occurring January 1995 in Kobe – which particularly touched the area in which are found his first constructions - he donated his Pritzker prize money to the orphans of the city. He also collected funds to improve the quality of the reconstruction, as many deaths occurred due to the collapse of poorly built structures.