The Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church

If Ayn Rand re-wrote The Fountainhead with a Japanese setting, Howard Roark’s name would be changed to Ando Tadao. That’s just my opinion, speaking as a recovering architecture fanatic.


The man is a legend. Ando is a former truck driver and prizefighter who made a notable transformation by training himself to be an architect. Winner of the Pritzker Prize ( as close as architect gets to Nobel laureate-hood ), he has been making a name for himself and bringing honors to Japanese design for more than four decades. Anecdotes about his passion for construction excellence abound.If he has built a masterpiece, it is hard to choose it from his wide portfolio. The Church of the Light certainly makes the shortlist. The local people know the church as the Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church, and its presence in the neighborhood is subtle and unobtrusive. The only hint that the building houses something special is a great cruciform window facing the intersection nearby. The cross shaped window served as a beacon to my family and about three dozen other architectural pilgrims who visited this past weekend, the final day of golden week.
The property that the church sits on is small, so Ando-sensei placed the masses of the sanctuary and study hall carefully to create an introverted, contemplative courtyard that forces the mind and body into narrow corners and then suddenly

opens up into sublime spaces that seem to touch and free the soul. The concrete work is exquisite throughout, the surfaces at times glassy smooth. Steel and glass frame and capture the views outside and then seem to disappear behind the surface of the concrete. Wood cabinetwork retains simplicity, utility and humanity, all at once. Light and shadow caress the concrete texture, rendered delicate by the unparalleled craftsmanship.

After digesting the beauty of it all, I met the current pastor of the church, Reverend Ken’ichi Oishi. He’s a kind and gracious host who enjoys taking the time to tell about the people who make up his flock and the history of how they commissioned a maestro-in-the-making to build a special home for their community. He hinted that when the church approached the architect, they weren’t in a position to capture his attention with a spectacular building budget. Ando has said in speeches that he was impressed by the sincerity and intensity of the vision of the church leaders enough to overcome his own reservations about the obstacles that would arise. Together, client and architect overcame those obstacles. What resulted from the courageous union was a bounty of grace and tranquility. Howard Roark would approve.

 

The Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church is located in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, near Bampakukinenkoen (Expo ’70 Park). For more information about the church, location and how to arrange a visit go to http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~nv3n-krkm/index_e.html.

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