Tadao Ando – The Hundred Step Garden at Awaji Yumebutai

Place: Awaji, Country: Japan
Architectural Design: Tadao Ando Architects
The Hundred Step Garden, Awaji, Japan

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Tadao Ando, The Hundred Step Garden, Awaji, Japan.
Photo by 663highland / Wikimedia Commons

Tadao Ando is renowned for his extreme attention to nature, and more specifically to the relation between human beings and their architecture on one side, and natural elements and landscape on the other side.
This extreme attention reveals sometimes in little details – like the small cherry leaf that Ando printed on a concrete wall of his Conference Pavilion at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, to commemorate a tree he was forced to remove – sometimes in monumental constructions, such as the famous Wood Culture Museum in Japan.

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The cherry leaf printed on a concrete wall of the Tadao Ando’s Conference Pavilion at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. Photo Peters Picture / Flickr

In this sense, the project presented here, known as The 100 Step Garden, is exemplary of Ando’s vision of the relationship between humans and nature.
Like the leaf at Vitra, it originates from the desire to heal a wound inflicted on nature by men. Indeed, the garden is located on Awaji, a small island in the Hyōgo Prefecture in Japan, which had been dug intensively in the 1970s and 1980s to collect landfill for various projects in Osaka Bay, including the Kansai airport. The natural environment of the island had been consequently badly damaged.
To make the situation even worse, in 1995 the area was hit by the Great Hanshin earthquake, also known as the Kobe Earthquake, in which over 6,000 people lost their lives.

These events prompted Ando to propose to the local authorities an ambitious project aimed at restoring the island landscape, transforming Awaji into a park and, at the same time, into a memorial for the victims of the Kobe earthquake, and, as the architect says, into “a symbol of rebirth that commemorates death and devastation by celebrating their opposites: life and beauty”. The project was therefore named Awaji Yumebutai, which roughly means “Awaji, a place for dreams” in Japanese.

Tadao Ando, Awaji Yumebutai, site plan

Tadao Ando, Awaji Yumebutai, site plan, The 100 Step Garden is in the upper center-left part of the image. Courtesy of Tadao Ando Architects & Associates.

Completed in March 2000, Ando’s regeneration project comprises several gardens and public plazas, ponds, fountains, cascades, a plant museum, a tropical greenhouse, a conference center, a 100-seat auditorium, an open-air theater, a tea ceremony pavilion, a Christian chapel, a Buddhist temple, a hotel, shops, and restaurants. Yet, “The 100 Step Garden” is possibly the island’s most iconic and renowned feature.

Built on a panoramic hillside as a prayer garden and a tribute to the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the Hyakudan-En (literally “one-hundred steps” in Japanese) garden, consists of 100 small square gardens, each 5mx5m, installed on terraces and bordered by sets of steps on all sides, with 14 steps (2-meter high in total) on the south and north sides and 7 steps (1-meter high) on the east and west sides. This scheme creates a large sloped garden in which a rigorous geometric pattern and the diversity of colors and fragrances from a diverse set of shrubs and flowering plants, mostly chrysanthemums and other plants of the Asteraceae family, combine.
The set of steps is made of bare concrete, while the retaining walls of the gardens are made of local grey stone.

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 A close-up of The100 Step Garden (Hyakudan-En), photo Victorillen / Flickr

The Hundred Step Garden is divided into three main “zones”, each 36mx36m in plan. The first zone is a meditation garden named “The Prayer Garden for Sea Gods”, the second is a garden with edible plants and herbs called “The Harvest Garden”, and the third features flora native of the island and is entitled “The Awaji Meadow Garden”.

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Tadao Ando, The Hundred Step Garden, Awaji, Japan. PhotoTama-Chan / Flickr.

Once again, this solution fully expresses this poetic combination of architecture, nature, and traditional Japanese culture which forms contributes so much to Ando’s distinctive personality as a designer.

“The 21st century is no longer in an age when nature can take care of itself. Each of us must have a strong will to live together with the environment by taking diligently some kind of action against nature. Hopefully, this will be a trigger to enhance awareness of the “environment”, even if only slightly, such as nature around us including trees in the garden, streams, Mt. Rokko and Osaka Bay as well as long-term global changes including natural disasters like earthquakes.” Tadao Ando.

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Tadao Ando, The Hundred Step Garden, Awaji, Japan. Photos by Brian Wu / Flickr


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