Architect Tadao Ando hasn’t changed much in 11 years. And he is proud of that. He still does not speak English, or at least that’s how he presents, and he still talks a lot about his lack of fluency. He still speaks about his lack of formal training in architecture. And he is still uncompromising—which he sees as a plus in himself and others.

Ando was in New York City this week for a media briefing on one of his commissions—two buildings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute expansion and visitor-experience overhaul in Williamstown, Mass. During his remarks at the podium, made in Japanese and translated by his interpreter, he talked about his early association with a design firm called Gutai Group. He said he was impressed by its no-room-for-any-compromise attitude. He also talked about having been hired, in the 1990s to lecture at Harvard—even though he did not speak English.

After telling us about his career, Ando lauded the art institute as a client, for its uncompromising ways. The project, which began 15 years ago, includes two new buildings by Ando and others renovated or expanded by Selldorf Architects. The landscape architect tying everything together is Reed Hilderbrand.

Ando’s first building opened in 2008. His second—a 44,000-sq-ft visitor center—and the rest of the project at the 140-acre campus are on course for a grand inauguration in the summer. The museum is thrilled with his work and with the work of the rest of the team.

Seeing Ando on Dec. 11 brought to mind my first encounter with him as a press person. It was in early 2002 in Washington, D.C., at the Octagon at AIA headquarters. The night before, Ando had received the AIA Gold Medal.

At the small press briefing, Ando made a very strong impression on me because of his very pointed remarks about his vision for the future of the World Trade Center site. He actually used his AIA Gold Medal limelight as a megaphone for his proposal.

Ando’s concept was for a 200-meter-dia, 30-m-high grassy mound at Ground Zero. Through an interpreter, he said the partial globe would ''remind people of the courage after Sept. 11 and of the responsibility America has for the rest of the world.'' Through architecture, ''I try to make people aware of their own presence and their relation to others,'' he said. The mound, with its planet-like shape, he said, would symbolically let the rest of the world know that Americans were aware of those outside their borders. 

On Wed., Dec. 11, I had the occasion to ask him, again through his interpreter, if, 11 years hence, he still clung to his old opinion about the World Trade Center site.

He smiled broadly and nodded, many times. No need for an interpreter for that response!