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Luminaries of our times - Fumihiko Maki

STIR speaks with some of the greatest icons of our times – Fumihiko Maki, even at 91, continues to conceptualise and actively engage in humanitarian design across the globe.

by Sonal Shah Aug 07, 2019

Pritzker Prize laureate, AIA Gold Medalist, and multi-award winner, Fumihiko Maki, turns 91 in September this year. Of his design philosophy, he says, “Humanism in architecture has always been my focus and is a continuous thread running through all my projects.” With a career spanning over seven decades, and despite all the changes in technology, design styles or alternate thought processes that he has witnessed, he asserts, “My philosophy hasn’t changed. I have always focused on decency as a basic ethical principle, giving consideration to all users. We do our best for a given site or project, executing the client’s desires, while also meeting the hidden expectations of society. And for this reason there has never been any peak in my career as an architect.”

04 min watch
Fumihiko Maki – Time Space Existence Video Credit: Courtesy of PLANE-SITE

Maki graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1952 and obtained his Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1954. Interestingly, his foray into architecture was a fallout of the post-World War II ban on Japan from manufacturing aircraft. “As a young boy, I was fascinated by making model airplanes and originally wanted to be an aeronautical engineer; but as Japan had been forbidden by the US, this specific career was not available then. So, I decided to become an architect instead. Also, during those years, I chanced to visit some of the earliest modernist houses in Tokyo, which I still remember today. Perhaps that also influenced my decision.”

His career began in 1956, when he took up assistant professorship at Washington University in St Louis and landed his first commission - designing the Steinberg Hall, the University Museum and Art/Architecture Library. In 1960, he returned to Japan and founded his own practice Maki and Associates in 1965.

Spiral Building, also known as Wacoal Art Centre, Tokyo, 1985| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
Spiral Building, also known as Wacoal Art Centre, Tokyo, 1985 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates

Currently, Maki divides his time between participating in group discussions for on-going projects, preparing lectures, writing essays and editing books. He remains heavily involved in all his projects, right from conceptualisation, material and detail selection…visiting the building sites as often as possible. “Our first step is the formation of an appropriate core team for each project, from a few to a dozen, depending on size. We always make a large site and building model simultaneously approaching the project from a variety of scales; discussing and deliberating, till we narrow it down to the final design.”

Maki is no stranger to India too…. His firm built the Bihar Museum in Patna, a project he was awarded through a limited design competition. They developed a museum plan similar to an academic campus so visitors could enjoy varied experiences across galleries and open spaces. Work began in 2013, and was completed in four years. The museum is a two-storey building spread over 5.6 hectares, having 24,000 sqm of built space including a children’s museum, temporary and permanent exhibition halls, auditoria, workshop centres and offices.

  • Initial sketches of Bihar Museum in Patna, 2011, by Fumihiko Maki| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Initial sketches of Bihar Museum in Patna, 2011, by Fumihiko Maki Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates
  • Soaking in the sun at the Bihar Museum site with architects Rahul Gore and Sonal Sanchetti of Opolis, his local partners for the project| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Soaking in the sun at the Bihar Museum site with architects Rahul Gore and Sonal Sanchetti of Opolis, his local partners for the project Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates
  • Aerial view of the two storeyed Bihar Museum, Patna, 2017| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Aerial view of the two-storeyed Bihar Museum, Patna, 2017 Image Credit: Ariel Huber

Amongst his earlier projects, cherished memories are connected to Hillside Terrace in Tokyo. A project which began in 1969, and continued in seven phases through 1998. “Memorable because it has spanned across my career, an unusual chance to build a part of the city with the same client but spread over decades,” says the architect. It, therefore, signifies a built record of Maki’s abiding design principles and also of the technical developments in Japan over three decades. “Time passing between phases allowed us to assess the design of each phase and adapt to changing conditions. As our office is also located in the latest phase (since 1998), we have daily contact and exposure with the building. The other phases are nearby, with stores, restaurants, galleries that we use. Some of my family also lives here. So, these earlier designs are not simply a memory, but a part of my daily life, creating new memories year after year.”

  • Hillside Terrace, Tokyo. Project completed over seven phases, 1969-1998, Phase 1, 1969| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Hillside Terrace, Tokyo. Project completed over seven phases, 1969-1998, Phase 1, 1969 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates
  • Hillside Terrace, stores and restaurants, Phase 2, 1973| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Hillside Terrace - stores and restaurants, Phase 2, 1973 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates
  • Hillside Terrace, Project 1969-1998, Phase 7, 1998| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
    Hillside Terrace, Project 1969-1998, Phase 7, 1998 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates

In 2013, Maki completed the iconic Tower 4 of the new World Trade Centre in New York; 2014 saw the inauguration of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto; and 2017 the Shenzhen Sea World Culture and Art Centre; while the city hall of Yokohama is currently under construction. 

World Trade Centre, Tower 4 in New York, 2013| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
World Trade Centre, Tower 4 in New York, 2013 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates

Stepping into the 90s has not brought any lessening of commitment for the modernist architect. So what next for Fumihiko Maki? Planning and execution of the Reinhard Ernst Museum (Wiesbaden, Germany), Shibaura Area Redevelopment Project (Tokyo, Japan); Keio University Student Residential Complex (Fujisawa, Japan); Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium / Makuhari Messe:  Renovations for 2020 Summer Olympics  (Tokyo and Makuhari, Japan)….

The strong design fabric of his architectural marvels interweaving a minimalist Japanese aesthetic with Western culture and new technology make Maki’s structures evergreen. However, what truly sets them apart is the seamless manner in which multi level human interactions are  possible within each of them.

The Shenzhen Sea World Culture and Art Centre, Shenzhen, 2017| Fumihiko Maki| Maki and Associates| STIR
The Shenzhen Sea World Culture and Art Centre, Shenzhen, 2017 Image Credit: Courtesy of Maki and Associates

Did you know? Fumihiko Maki...

  • got his first design commission in the late 1950s for the Art Centre (Steinberg Hall) in Washington University, St. Louis
  • did not have any other completed work in the US besides Steinberg Hall until 1993
  • won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993
  • refers to his structures as “my children”
  • executed the Hillside Terrace project in Tokyo in seven phases over 29 years
  • taught at the Keio University SFC in Tokyo until he was 83 years old
  • turns 91 on September 6, 2019

(Produced by PLANE—SITE, the video Fumihiko Maki – TIME SPACE EXISTENCE   has been commissioned by the GAA Foundation and funded by the ECC in the run-up to the Time-Space-Existence exhibition during La Biennale di Venezia Architettura in Venice in 2018.)

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About Author

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah (Contributing Writer): One of India’s premier floral artists and the creative conceptualiser of Bageecha, Sonal was also Founding Deputy Editor of ELLE DECOR India for 14 years. With a doctorate in Political Science, she continues to pursue various creative passions, including writing about art, design and nature-floral related topics.

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