Few of Tadao Ando's projects represent the architect's contribution to Japanese culture better than his Water Temple: more than a building, it is a sensorial experience representing a radical change in the age-old tradition of Japanese temple architecture
In something more than a simple inversion of the conventional ascent to the holy place, Ando employs a series of different architectonic spaces conceived as a succession of theatres for initiation. Walking between the lotus flowers, one feels that this is a place which transcends day-to-day life, a place where the combination of architecture with nature and the reverberation of the placid mirror of water naturally lead to meditation and asceticism.
After descending the narrow staircase flanked by the cement walls so typical of Ando's works, the visitor finally reaches the sacred space, where everything is enveloped in a warm vermilion red - an unusual use of colour by the architect.
Access to the sanctuary is not immediate: once again, basic geometrical elements oblige the visitor to take a route which only gradually leads to the place of worship, offering continual surprises along the way.
Ando has taken the oval shape of the pool underground and made it into a sacred enclosure within which he has organised different spaces, dividing the area in two with the long stairway and assigning half of it to the sanctuary and the other half to the adjacent rooms.
The sanctuary is bounded by two semicircular walls enclosing a wooden structure built on the traditional model of Shingon temples, with a statue of Amida Buddha in the centre.
The sacredness of the room is accentuated by the use of colour and light: natural light from a single source filters through a grating behind the statue of the Buddha and floods the nave, warming up the vermilion red in which the room is painted.
The plastic and spatial results achieved here make the Hompuki temple one of the high points of Ando's career, expressing a universe of symbolism and colour formerly unknown to him which has enriched his way of expressing the character of Japanese space.