Should I have heard of him? He's one of Japan's most important contemporary architects, famous for his use of simple materials and shapes. Working primarily with unfinished reinforced concrete, he has designed some of Japan's most exciting and dynamic religious structures, museums, commercial and residential buildings. What is he best known for? His creative use of space, air and light have drawn worldwide attention. One of his most praised projects is the Church of the Light in Osaka, a simple concrete box which sunlight penetrates to form a cross in the dark interior. Would you want to live in his concrete structures? Ando is acknowledged for designing sensitive and habitable interiors with a unique sense of sanctuary. While his concrete housing units appear to be uniform on the outside, each one has an individual interior. When he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995, the jurors praised his ability to create 'encapsulating spaces where people can interrelate to light and shadow, wind and water, away from the surrounding urban chaos'. Rokko Housing, one of his most important housing projects in Osaka, was awarded Japan's Cultural Design Prize in 1983. Is concrete his only medium? 'Smooth as silk' concrete is Ando's favourite material but he has also worked extensively with steel and glass and used wood in a few projects. He was a carpenter's apprentice for a short time and learned the craftsmanship of traditional Japanese wooden construction. What's his background? Ando's work is original and largely uninfluenced by current architectural styles. As a child in Osaka he learned to make wooden models of ships and planes from a carpenter across the street from his home. After a brief stint as a boxer, Ando worked as an apprentice to designers and town planners for short periods. He has no formal training or degree but taught himself architecture through extensive reading and a number of study trips to Europe and the United States to sketch historical buildings. Ando cites Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn as his most important influences. Can I see his work outside Japan? Most of his celebrated designs are in Japan, including Tokyo's Collezione building (above left), the Suntory Museum in Osaka, the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Kagawa and the Children's Museum at Hyogo. In 1991 he was asked to design a gallery to display Japanese folding screens at the Art Institute of Chicago, and he received much acclaim for his Japan Pavilion for the 92 Expo in Seville, Spain. He designed an art school for Benetton at Treviso in northern Italy, which is still under construction, a theatre in Milan for Giorgio Armani and a museum in Paris for luxury goods tycoon Francois Pinault. He also constructed a house for German furniture manufacturers Vitra to host seminars in. Last word from the designer: 'I have the somewhat arrogant belief that the way people lead their lives can be directed, even a little, by architecture. I do not believe architecture should speak too much, it should remain silent and let nature, in the guise of sunlight and wind, speak.'