Plant and sky
(Image credit: press)

Few have heard of Tadao Ando the environmentalist. But since 1995, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect has been working hard on greening Japan, planting trees alongside students, volunteers, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and U2 singer Bono. When Tokyo launched its bid for the 2016 Olympics, Ando was asked to join a Grand Design panel, tasked with reshaping the city for the Games. His first thoughts were on bringing more trees to the capital.

Umi no Mori

(Image credit: press)

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But rather than push for corporate or government funding, the 68-year-old has called on individuals to invest in their own future by each donating ¥1,000 (£6.45) to help buy the 500,000 saplings he needs to turn an 88-hectare island of garbage piled up in Tokyo Bay into “Umi no Mori” or the Forest on the Sea.

“The garbage is sandwiched inside landfill extracted from the construction sites of Tokyo,” Ando explains. “The surface layer is covered by soil and leaf compost. The garbage underneath will naturally break down. There’s no toxicity, but we do have to extract methane gas, which is produced during the process of transformation of the garbage. We collect this methane gas and use it as fuel for power generation.”

We suggest to Ando that it’s unusual for a builder of buildings such as himself to take up the cause of greening Japan – something he is also doing through his Setouchi Olive Foundation, which is well on the way to planting one million trees. “Designing architecture is very similar to designing environments," he replies, “The aim of the greening projects in which I’m involved, including Umi no Mori, is to recover the environment and scenery for future generations.”

by Gordon Kanki Knight

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).