Specs for an Ando-esque concrete wall anyone?

curt clay

Has anyone designed an exposed concrete wall (both interior & exterior) in the veign of Tadao Ando?

What type of concrete / admixture is used to make it feel so baby's-ass soft? Are the walls polished? I remember hearing that he mixed the ashes of a certain type of wood into the concrete to give it it's texture...

Is there a cavity in the middle with waterproofing / insulation? Or does the walls thickness give the wall its insulation qualities?

What type of R-value do these walls typically achieve?

Are there any specific code obstacles (NFPA?) that these walls present?

Any and all information is greatly appreciated.

Oct 31, 05 11:28 am

I'm curious about this too.
I heard from a friend of Zaha Hadid that Ando gave her a new/untested mix for her to use on one of her buildings (think it was the Vitra firehouse), basically using her ass a guinea pig (turned out well tho!)

Oct 31, 05 12:16 pm
Living in Gin

I can't help you now, but I have a couple of Tadao Ando books at home with some detail drawings. I'll check them and report back.

He did a house here in Chicago, and I'm pretty sure the walls have some sort of cavity. If you go around to the back of the house via the alley, you can actually touch the wall for the garage. It is perfection.

Oct 31, 05 12:30 pm

I heard that they varnish or use shellac on the plywood used for the formwork to get the baby's ass smoothness

Oct 31, 05 12:30 pm

someone told me that the walls in the extension to the fort worth museum were smoothed with razors. i dont know how many razors or what kind it would take to do this if its true.

Oct 31, 05 12:41 pm

baby assness is in the form material. we've used film coated plywood from finland (contractor's know how). there is no polishing involved.
add mixture wasmainly fine sand and small, 1/4"-3/8", gravel with carefully figured water content. if it is too watery, aggregate will sink to the bottom and not enough water will create air pockets and reduce the workability of the conc. it must be well vibrated for conc. to fill the undersides of the window openings if any, and electrical boxes etc.,
contractor never made his 'bitches brew' formula public. so, no info on that. our walls were 9" thick and it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, hence the U value. no foam in between (it would have been almost impossible to hold the foam insulation directly on the center).
watch your forms. any area missing a nail or a form tie (plug) will pop out and give you a niiice imperfection which happened to me and i called it a signature from the concrete god.
i'd like to say, observing it happen was a really interesting and satisfying experience unique to concrete (from liquid to solid).

Oct 31, 05 12:46 pm
curt clay


you imported your form plywood from finland??

It sounds like the contractor's 'bitches brew' formula approach would be great if we all had that contractor, so what did you specify in order to achieve the desired results?

If I could put "baby assness" on my CD's I would, but I fear that might raise a red flag.

Oct 31, 05 1:36 pm

not personally imported but special order via anderson's plywood in culver city.
yes true, it is important to find a good concrete contractor. the one we had worked with john lautner.
it was more or less a discriptive spec explaining the desired result. structural spec of course complied with structural requirements and calcs.
you can search and find the right form material and that will result in the desired effect for the surface.
concrete will show different results depending the builders experience and it is true that there is a certain secrecy to each builders knowledge. at least in my case.

Oct 31, 05 2:26 pm

the Apple store (here in Chicago: Huron and Michigan, at least) feels wonderfully slick and smooth too. Everytime I walk by on my way to Northwestern I run my fingers down the side of the building...hmmm.

Oct 31, 05 3:47 pm
curt clay


By any chance do you remember what is the 9" thickness height / length limitation? I know it's a structural question, but if there were some general rules of thumb you can remember I'd appreciate it..

.. just trying to approach the structural engineer with all the info I can have

Oct 31, 05 4:58 pm
curt clay


if I'm not mistaken, those walls are a limestone-ish rain screen... I don't think they're concrete..

Oct 31, 05 5:14 pm
A Center for Ants?


ultimately, i think you're also gonna have to have a kickass contractor with experience doing high quality concrete to get the final result you want.

Oct 31, 05 5:18 pm

9" was a client 'desired' thickness. as far as i know it could go as low as the thickness of the rebars and 1.5" min. concrete embedment ea. side. so, roughly it could have been 4.5" - 5" thick. another consideration was the ht of the walls and this being 1 story with total ht 14'.
gc built the walls 1 at a time, reusing the forms. the building is +,- 800 sq ft, and concrete part of the contract was 75K but it was a great deal even 10 yrs ago for a shoe box of approx., 16' x 50' x 14'. good luck with your project. concrete likes surprises.

Oct 31, 05 6:10 pm
el jeffe

a nice feature of thick concrete walls is that you can have beam pockets cast with embed plates - a nifty way to get clean loooking connections without having (possibly) visible plates bolted to the face of the wall.

i'm currently borrowing a cubicle inside a structural engineer's office while our TI is being completed. the entry foyer has a lerge cast-in-place feature wall behind the receptionist. they just used CDX for the forms so the grain is very expresssed - but the contractor still managed to blow-out of the formwork edges. i always chuckle walking by that wall and feeling the 3/4" lip of bowed concrete. i think it turned out to be an appropriate warning and reminder for anyone doing construction administration...

Oct 31, 05 6:31 pm
el jeffe

that would be 'large' and not 'lerge'.
i don't know what the hell a lerge is.

Oct 31, 05 6:32 pm

i dont know much but i offer this....i would say unless your walls are being built in switzerland or somewhere equivalent, it wont matter what it says as much as who is reading it. the us is not known for superior finished concrete work. also i have heard rumors that ando wont let red wine to be served at pulitzer openings so there is no chance of staining his beautiful concrete. maybe no red wine should be in your spec?

Oct 31, 05 10:46 pm

gunter pfeifer spec'd the concrete for the vitra buildings.
the mix was in the archive.

Oct 31, 05 10:49 pm

I have no idea what the Apple walls actually are...I'm sure you're right, but they are lovely...Although I've never once been in the store, just along the wall

Oct 31, 05 11:11 pm

You dont need a spec as much as you need wads of cash to pull Ando-esque concrete off.

Nov 1, 05 12:04 am

i 'pulled off' something like andocrete in school, with some lovely, slick blue-marblized Wilsonart laminate lining the formwork. we could see our faces in it (the other members of the team & i). And we used leftover concrete from a local construction site (free.) A 9" thick wall, with the steps built in, too. we didn't polish it or seal it when done, though, which wasn't good...but, it was only a 5' wide section of wall and we were 2nd year students.

i'm told that for ando's pulitzer in St. Louis, the CA rode in the concrete truck with a stopwatch & a thermometer to make sure the trip was short enough & the ambient temperature was within a tight range. otherwise they had to dump the whole load. could go either way, I guess.

Nov 1, 05 12:19 am

talk about tight range...

...the CA had the thermometer deep in a "storage" place other than his pockets.

And they call architects anal and say that they suffer from OCD?

Nov 1, 05 12:37 am

I have a friend who worked in Ando's office and he told me that one of the secret ingredients is black chinese ink (the kind used in asian calligraphy). Truth or architecture legend I don't know...

Nov 1, 05 4:28 am

the guy who sits beside me works for ando as an intern (actually he was just hired recently to take a full-time position with the ando-man once he finishes his master's degree next spring; he is smiling quite a lot lately...). anyway i can ask next time i go to studio. He may not know mind.

I recall reading his formula in a book somewhere, but I think more than just the right mix you need good formwork (in the projects i did we used panels painted with a very glossy coating i don't know what you call it in english but something plastic-y...) and good workers. ando also specs thick walls so the concrete can be vibrated real nice and not get hung up on the re-bar and such, i think (it could be just aesthetic).

the house in chicago is doubled up with a layer of insulation between 2 concrete walls. the stuff in japan is not insulated and the buildings sweat quite a lot and are very cold in the winter. that is typical for most homes here though so nobody cares. i assume he insulates the insides of the big projects, which is not exactly the right way to use thermal mass, but certainly looks nice...

Nov 1, 05 6:17 am
curt clay

Hmm, I found this which looks interesting..

Nov 1, 05 8:41 am

if you want smooth concrete spec the forms to be lined with formica. the smoother the finish of the formica the smoother the concrete. make sure the forms are waxed and REALLY clean. if there is a hair on the form it will show in the concrete. make sure the re-bar is held min. 1" from the face or you will get ghosting. vibrate the hell out of it to make sure that you don't have any bug holes on the surface. i would spec out rigid insulation in the middle for both R-value and a way to reduce the amount of concrete. when it start to get thick oyu have to manipulate the curing time or you will get cracks. it won't matter if you can see your reflection on the concrete if it is cracked.

Nov 1, 05 1:43 pm

what method is used to vibrate conrete? I've never seen a wall poured so i'm clueless.

Nov 1, 05 2:45 pm

My firm sent several of us to the Modern in Ft. Worth, and the concrete edge is as sharp as the corner condition on the metal panels there. It’s unbelievable. Some repair marks are visible, but they are not obvious at all. The concrete color seemed to be much more brown than normal, which I am sure is a result of the mix design, but regardless, it is the best concrete work I have ever seen.

I was told that their formwork teams were basically cabinetry carpenters, and also that the GC could not find a sub-contractor to do the concrete work. They in turn had to take it upon themselves to become experts in it. Now they offer consulting services for architectural concrete.

Nov 1, 05 5:08 pm

impalajunkie, on the sites i worked at the vibration was usually done with a big vibrating cable basically, but i have heard ando does it himself with bamboo. i don't recall why (ie, hand vibration gets better results...), nor if he still does that but i do know he gets his staff to help out on site so labor is not always an issue. he does get his staff to clean the efflorescence stains by hand and is into the learning by doing attitude so could be more than a myth...

as for thick walls, jh, structurally ando could do many of them at 200 or 250 mm thickness but they are usually 300 at least, and often much more. in this earthquake country the amount of re-bar is insane so (i am told) he adds another 50 mm or so to give room for the concrete to flow. could be wrong mind, that's just what my engineer told me... only ando really knows.

Nov 1, 05 5:52 pm


are you saying that ando goes out to the job site and vibrates the concrete by himself???? come on man

Nov 1, 05 5:57 pm

oh and i forgot there is a video on the making of the modern in FW. They show the guys making the forms and everything.Like how they spent an entire day trying to put the Y shaped columns together but couldnt line them up. It was very cool. go check it out.

Nov 1, 05 6:00 pm

...and he has to use bamboo...because he's japanese...

Nov 1, 05 6:08 pm

ando used to go and do it himself, or so i'm told. hell even the folks in my office all had a go at it and it wasn't /isn't famous. hard work and a good education. we didn't get up to ando quality but better than anything i've seen outside japan. and pretty damn fine nonetheless. some very fine construction companies here.

the bamboo thing is maybe a myth. hard to say what is true. half of my classmates were in his lab (students in japan do their masters degree under a single professor, and there are only a handful for each prof. sort of a master apprentice kind of thing) til he retired recently and even THEY tell conflicting stories. nature of fame i suppose. kinda like how so many people still believe Mies' father was a bricklayer...

Nov 2, 05 2:54 am
el jeffe

a mechanical vibrator can over-vibrate the concrete and start causing the fines & aggregate to separate - usually that is the cause of horizontal striations in a wall. kinda like using a drum sander on a hardwood floor and leaving it in one spot for slightly too long...

Nov 2, 05 11:51 am
curt clay

vado, thanks for the article... very informative..

Nov 3, 05 9:04 am
liberty bell

Yep, great article, vado.

In my experience, using plexiglas for formwork gives you a surface that is too glass-like, not baby-ass enough.

That's just my opinion.

Nov 3, 05 9:15 am

has anyone glimpsed the concrete of David Rinehart's (Anshen + Allen) addition to the Salk Institute? its is the finest that I have ever seen- in person, at least. anyone know how it was done?

Nov 4, 05 4:32 am
vado retro

dont thank me. thank google. i think its available on your computer today!

Nov 4, 05 6:31 am
el jeffe

i can't find the google you know where it is on my keyboard?

Nov 4, 05 9:36 am
el jeffe

perhaps google is the same as PAUSE/BREAK?

Nov 4, 05 9:36 am
vado retro

el jeffe-google

Nov 4, 05 1:00 pm
el jeffe

SOLD OUT!!!!!!

Nov 4, 05 5:18 pm
curt clay

^^^ just in case anyone missed it..

Dec 1, 05 1:26 pm

How about the plugs?  I remember from LK's Exeter Library that they felt like Delrin (plastic), but I also hear that LK used lead plugs elsewhere.  Once the snap ties are removed, that is, I am searching for the source of the plugs.

Oct 10, 17 7:44 pm

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