While architect Tadao Ando’s Hill of the Buddha opened more than a year ago, we are just now discovering this wonderful work of landscape architecture in Makomanai Takino Cemetery in Sapporo, Japan.
Ando told Domus magazine: “‘The aim of this project was to build a prayer hall that would enhance the attractiveness of a stone Buddha sculpted 15 years ago. The site is a gently sloping hill on 180 hectares of lush land belonging to a cemetery. The statue is 13.5-meter-tall (44-feet-tall) and weighs 1,500 tons. It is made of fine, highly selected solid stone. Until now, the Buddha statue has stood alone in the field, giving an unrestful impression. The cemetery wanted to give visitors a more serene appreciation of the Buddha.”
So Ando, who is famous for his spiritual buildings made out of concrete, convinced the cemetery to bury the grand Buddha, with just his head peeking above ground, to show respect for this ancient teacher. The Buddha is now surrounded by a hill covered in some 150,000 lavender plants. The only way to get close is to walk through a 40-meter-long (131-feet-long) tunnel.
As Ando explains, “the design intention was to create a vivid spatial sequence, beginning with the long approach through the tunnel in order to heighten anticipation of the statue, which is invisible from the outside.” The tunnel’s walls are formed out of folded concrete that feels both elemental and monumental.
When visitors reach the Buddha at the end of the tunnel, they see his head is “encircled by a halo of sky.” The cemetery says this view creates a “blessed moment.”
The surrounding lavender fields offer an ever-changing frame for the Atama Daibutsu: “they turn fresh green in spring, pale purple in summer, and silky white with snow in winter.”
Ando also created a water fountain, which can be seen in the video above, that serves as a “sacred boundary.” In Buddhism, water enables the quest for “calmness, clarity, and purity in our body, speech, and mind.”
According to the cemetery, “by detouring around the water garden instead of making a straight approach, one purifies the soul, and one’s mindset switches from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”