It transpires that it was Tadao Ando, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995, who instigated the idea for his latest show. ‘Tadao Ando told us that he'd like to have a monographic exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and it's Ando who has designed the scenography,’ says Frédéric Migayrou, the exhibition’s curator. Tracing Ando's five-decade-long career, it highlights around 50 of his 300 projects through 180 drawings and 70 models, and is divided into four themes: the basic form of space, the urban challenge, the origins of landscape and the dialogue with history.

Yet Ando is not limiting himself to the exhibition space. Installed on the south facade of the Centre Pompidou next to the Stravinsky Fountain with the kinetic sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely is a replica of a facade of the Church of the Light (1989), the protestant chapel that Ando designed in Ibaraki on the outskirts of Osaka. A cruciform cut from unadorned concrete, it embodies the purity, simplicity and minimal aesthetic for which Ando is revered, and creates an overpowering condensation of light.

On the left: Church of the Light, 1989. Photo Mitsuo Matsuoka. On the right: Drawing of Church of the Light, 1989. Photo: Tadao Ando Architect & Associates

‘The logic of Ando's work is light and how light is reflected on concrete to create a new materiality,’ Migayrou says. ‘Ando's style is extremely reduced, but behind this reduction of means and language of simple geometry there's a desire to rematerialise architecture through perception. It's a very physical, material and sensual approach that engenders an amplification of architectural space. It's this paradox in Ando's work that creates its beauty.’

On display are the maquettes for Ando's first house which he designed for a couple and that later became his agency, Azuma House in Sumiyoshi (1976), known for its central courtyard open to the elements, and multiple museum projects, such as the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2002), which exemplifies Ando's elegant integration of light and water in his sober, concrete projects.

Model of Row House, Sumiyoshi - Azuma House © Centre Pompidou, Mnam/Cci Photo: Georges Meguerditchian

The centrepoint is a large, oval-shaped installation on Naoshima, the ‘art island’ where Ando has designed several museums, including the Benesse House Museum (featuring works by Richard Long, David Hockney and Hiroshi Sugimoto), Chichu Art Museum (featuring works by Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter De Maria), the Lee Ufan Museum and Ando Museum, collectively rethinking the relationship between natural landscapes, architecture and people. As Migayrou says, ‘Naoshima is an accomplishment on the territorial scale of a whole island and is inscribed in the Japanese Shintai tradition of something being perceived and conceived both spiritually and materially.’

Elsewhere are maquettes of the historical buildings like Punta della Dogana in Venice which Ando converted into an exhibition venue for the French collector/luxury brand billionaire François Pinault. Indeed, one of Ando's current projects is renovating the Bourse de Commerce – a 19th-century former stock exchange in Paris – and transforming the circular structure under a historic dome into a museum for Pinault's collection. A concrete cylinder, its walls pierced with four identical openings and topped with an oculus allowing natural light to filter in, will be inserted into the core. ‘The large concrete cylinder is a gesture of huge violence but that will enable a centrality to be created for all the exhibition rooms to be redistributed around,’ Migayrou says. ‘In all Ando's interventions on old buildings, he creates cutting lines that, with a few strokes, redistribute and reorganise the architectural space.’

 Punta della Dogana, 2009. Photo: Shigeo Ogawa

Also on view are Ando's colour sketches made during his travels of places like the Panthéon in Paris and buildings by Le Corbusier – Ando was fascinated by his use of concrete – plus pencil drawings for his architectural projects and his black-and-white photography, his images showing abstractions of his structures rather than representations.

Tadao Ando spoke to DAMN°’s Anna Sansom about his exhibition.

DAMN°: You've titled your exhibition Le défi, meaning the challenge. What challenge does architecture represent for you?

Tadao Ando: For the last 50 years, I have consistently produced architecture. My career began with the design of private residences, then transitioned to commissions for larger commercial and community facilities. Gradually the scale of my work increased and I started to receive numerous opportunities to design culturally relevant buildings.

Regardless of the scale at which I design, I constantly think about the methods in which architects and architecture can positively impact society. Whenever I make or create anything, I have a reoccurring struggle to compose themes which can be orchestrated into buildings. For me, the entire design process has always been a challenge. However, it is the struggle, the repeated process of confronting difficult problems that allows you to create new things. In this exhibition, I hope to appeal to the people of France through the exploration of my future endeavours and past accomplishments to showcase my work and process.

 Nariwa Museum, 1994. Photo: Mitsuo Matsuoka

DAMN°: What metaphorical relationship do you see between boxing and architecture?

TA: In high school I was a professional boxer, so I am often asked about the link between boxing and architecture. Through boxing, I realised that perseverance and courage are necessary for survival. This realisation has dramatically aided my education as an architect and is something that I continue to think about today.

I have not attended university or received a formal architectural education. When no one would give me a chance, I always thought: to make it as a designer, I would have to shift the existing method of thought in architecture to move the profession forward. These experiences from my youth formed the foundation of who I am today.

Church on the Water, 1988. Photo: Yoshio Shiratori

DAMN°: Why have you decided to display a concrete facade with a cross, evoking the Church of the Light, outside the Centre Pompidou?

TA: The Church of the Light will serve as one of the main exhibits of this event. I am continually thinking of ways to make architecture which exceeds the boundaries of functionality and takes hold of the minds and hearts of its visitors. Underneath the streams of light passing through the cruciform cut from concrete, visitors can share a uniform consciousness in the physical manifestation of a straightforward and symbolic design concept. I think the Church of the Light is the perfect icon for this exhibition and will help visitors to understand my architectural ideology.

DAMN°: How have you defined your philosophy and vision to marry architecture, art and nature on Naoshima Island?

TA: For architecture to fully unify with nature, time and patience are required. The real challenge lies not in the design and construction of a building but the love and maintenance for it after it is completed. I believe architects have a responsibility to nurture their work so their buildings will mature with the passing of time. I have spent the last 30 years creating seven museums on Naoshima. I am profoundly invested in the architecture I have created on this island. Art, nature and human beings collide together to produce a thought-provoking experience which results in a place of endless possibilities. There, geometric architecture embedded in the earth entices the imagination of its visitors and establishes a dialogue with art and its surroundings.

 Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, 2004. Photo: Tadao Ando Architect & Associates

Nature conceals most of my structures on Naoshima. The external appearance of each of the buildings does not give any indication of the interior spaces. The visitor can shift their thoughts away from the shape of the building and focus on their feelings and spatial experiences on the relationship between art and landscape. There are also independent artworks spread throughout the island where the nature of Setouchi sets a stage for each artist. Artists often create pieces that are inspired by the surroundings and invent works of art which are completely specific to their locations. The idea that the combination of art, architecture and nature has the power to revitalise is consistent throughout all the projects on Naoshima.

DAMN°: Is Naoshima a completed work or do you think that more museums will be added?

TA: Naoshima began as an initiative born from the passion of President Soichiro Fukutake of Benesse Holdings, Inc. If Mr Fukutake is interested in pursuing new ventures on Naoshima, I would love to join him.

 Benesse House, Museum Naoshima, 1995. Photo: Mitsumasa Fujitsuka

DAMN°: How do you approach the renovation of a historical building, such as Punta della Dogana in Venice for the French collector François Pinault?

TA: When renovating a historical building, I tend to think of the existing building as a new site. From there, I carefully pick and choose the architectural elements which appeal to me the most. Through the design process, I attempt to create interventions which produce new spaces and revitalise the existing building.

At Punta della Dogana, I restored the exterior and added a new square, concrete exhibition space to enhance the historical and culturally relevant aspects of the 15th-century customs building. My idea was to create a new kind of gallery where the new and old could co-exist in equilibrium and simultaneously inspire visitors who came across this space.

DAMN°: You're currently working on the Bourse de Commerce in Paris that will house Pinault's collection. What can you tell us about this commission?

TA: At the Bourse de Commerce, adjacent to the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, I have conceived of an exhibition space enclosed by a massive cylindrical concrete wall. I believe that the Bourse de Commerce will become the new cultural centre of Paris. By juxtaposing the traditional interior space with a contemporary concrete gallery, an entirely new atmosphere will be born. It is my hope that the renovation of the Bourse de Commerce will become a building cherished by the French people akin to the Louvre.

Tadao Ando by Nobuyoshi Araki

Tadao Ando: Le défi (The Challenge),

Centre Pompidou, Paris,

10 October –31 December,

The exhibition is staged jointly by the Centre Pompidou, the Tadao Ando Exhibition Committee and the Japan Foundation as part of Japonismes 2018,

Tadao Ando: Le défi is published by Flammarion,

A new edition of Tadao Ando: The Colours of Light by Richard Pare has been published by Phaidon,