Hill of the Buddha
Tadao Ando's Lavender-Lined Entrance to the Monumental Structure
In Japan there’s this idea that every individual should leave a free-zone in each other’s life to live quiet and peaceful. If a city is well-designed, this means there are green areas around public and private spaces. Walking through them, it feels like taking a deep breath between life’s happenings. Travel around Japan and you will easily notice that, every time there’s an attraction to visit, you actually need to walk quite away from the train station through a park-like space to get to the venue. This is deliberately designed as an essential part of the experience: walking through this physical / mental space gives you time to decompress and focus on what’s next.
Japanese architect Tadao Ando applied this simple rule when the Makomanai Takino Cemetery asked him to do something in order to improve visitors’ experience and appreciation. The funerary ground is home to a 15.5 meter high stone Buddha that has been seated alone with nothing around for 15 years.
Ando’s idea was to hide the Buddha under a hill covered in lavender plants. Only the top of the statue’s head pokes out from the high-ground open roof, creating a first visual encounter between the visitors and the tightly curled coils of hair on the Buddha’s head.
The journey starts towards a water garden, a rectangular mirror of moving water. Rather than have you directly walk towards the Buddha, Ando makes you circle around it, as a way to purify yourself.
For Buddhists water is said to symbolize purity, clarity and calmness. Interiors and exteriors are blurred. Using just raw concrete, water and natural light, Ando seamlessly blended his minimal architecture with the surroundings.
The last 40 meters are meant to be experienced through a tunnel to finally arrive underneath the statue, which is only visible once you reach the end of it. When the hall is reached and you find yourself in a circular concrete bunker structure, you look up at the Buddha, staring at his head encircled by a halo of sky.
This intimacy is undoubtedly the result of Ando’s humble genius. His forging of art, architecture and environment seems effortless but feels so deeply thought.
The Makomanai Cemetery can be reached via car (30-min drive from central Sapporo) or subway (from Sapporo Station to Makomanai Station and then board the #2 or #3 bus)
Photography: Luca Mazzucchelli & Benedetta Anghileri
Words: Benedetta Anghileri
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