Six Tadao Ando Buildings on One Street? Finding “Ando Street” in the Tokyo Suburbs
“Ando Street” is a 432-meter strip of buildings located in Sengawa, a pleasant, suburban neighborhood in Western Tokyo. Since the architect, Tadao Ando, designed six buildings along the street at the request of the local landowner, people started calling it Ando Street, although that’s not the official name. But what led a globally recognized architect to design these relatively small buildings in a small suburban neighborhood with no fanfare? That is an interesting story.
In 1990, Yoko Ito, who owned the narrow, rectangular 16,000 m2 parcel by the Sengawa station, found out that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had decided that a new road would diagonally cut through her property. Against her will, her land was brutally divided into two very narrow, triangular pieces. She had been put in a difficult position: inheritance tax was astronomical but there was not much she could possibly do as her lots became almost prohibitively narrow for any major development projects to generate substantial revenue. The simplest thing she could do was to divide her land and sell individual plots to anyone who could use them for a simple purpose, such as developing hourly parking lots. But she rejected this idea as she believed that landowners have a responsibility to local communities to maintain high aesthetic standards for their properties. But this was easier said than done. After many years of negotiations with multiple stakeholders, she finally connected with Tadao Ando – her favorite architect – who was impressed with her passion and agreed to design six buildings on her property..
The map of Sengawa area in which the “Ando Street” (Route 114) is located.
The properties owned by Yoko Ito are in red. You can see that a road diagonally cuts through it, making the remaining piece of land very difficult to use for major projects.
What emerged from the entire endeavor was something peculiar: the 16-meter-wide street is lined with Ando’s signature, minimalist, exposed-concrete buildings with little space in between. The lack of margin is understandable considering the shape of Ito’s property and how the street cuts through it, but because the buildings’ rigid, flat surfaces (either concrete or glass) stand right next to the sidewalk, to walk along the road feels a bit tense. Was Sengawa, a small, mostly residential neighborhood with a long history (meaning there are many small/old buildings and houses of all kinds sitting next to each other in the area), really the place for Ando’s design that usually shines when it interacts with natural elements such as the geographic undulations of a site (he often buries the buildings underground), the use of sunlight or vegetation? You may find your own answer when you visit the place, or as Ando often says, you may need to wait for communities to “mature” on their own, but this is definitely a great experiment by a passionate individual local landowner, a prominent architect and the local community – a rare collaboration in an era where many projects are carried out almost only for economic purposes.
1. The Sengawa Station Court and City House Sengawa
2. The Sengawa Delta Studio
3. The Sengawa Theater
4. The Tokyo Art Museum
The Sengawa Station Court and City House Sengawa
The Sengawa Station Court and the City House, Sengawa are residential complexes. It looks as if you can own/rent rooms that come about 60m2~, or $2000~ per month if available (when I last checked, there was no available rooms). The design has a Bauhaus/brutalist vibes, which feels a bit too hard for a residential building.
The Sengawa Delta Studio
As this building sits on a very narrow lot, it’s really slim. It appears that it currently contains businesses such as a photo studio and a dental clinic. The main part of the building is covered with a glass wall but next to it there is a “wing” made of flat concrete. It looks like a landmark or an object rather than venue that people can visit and use.
The Sengawa Theater
This building/complex is owned by the local government (Chofu City) and has the Sengawa Theater (capacity of 121), Sengawa Fureai no ie (community hall/rooms for parents with babies/young children) and Sengawa nursery/daycare. Just like other buildings in the area, the surface is covered by tall glass and you cannot see what’s going on inside.
The Tokyo Art Museum was my favorite building on the Ando Street. Check out the details in this post.