“All children like round forms” – An interview to Fumihiko Maki

Fumihiko Maki portrait

Thank to our media partner PLANE-SITE, we present here a video interview to acclaimed Japanese architect and Pritzker Prize laureate Fumihiko Maki (b. 1928, Tokio), taken from the Space-Time-Existence series.

In the interview, three elements of Maki’s vision of architecture stand out particularly.

One is the concept we could call the “discipline of simplicity”, namely the ability to design a complex building, like a skyscraper, avoiding complications you don’t need while prioritizing attention to people.

“I do not try to have unnecessary complicated forms or textures in buildings. It is kind of a discipline I put on myself.  (…) There is a mysterious art to the whole design process, and conscious or unconscious decisions. Not trying to make space and form extraordinary, something you have not done or you have not seen. Instead we respect the human behaviors, what they may like, what they may not like.” 

Another very interesting passage is that about Japanese architecture. Rather surprisingly, Maki says he don’t know what makes his designs perceived by many as “typically Japanese”.

“My Japanese things are very unintentional. When we did certain things unconsciously, people began to say: “Oh it is very Japanese,” and if you ask me what are those Japanese components compared to others, I cannot really describe them.”

However, the passage also emphasizes the ability to merge an apparent dualism into a coherent whole and that to cope with opposites is essentially the key for a good design, something which frequently characterizes the vision of many Japanese architects.
On one side, there are elements in people which are somewhat innate, from which the unconscious behaviors originate and which are common to all human beings; on the other side, there are cultural elements that, for example, creates the differences between people of different cultures.

“Each nation is different but when we look at children’s behavior, these are so close to each other. For instance, they like a round form. They like a high place to be able to jump down, or to go up to a small place. They are all the same. So I found out the human being has two features. One is that (human beings) are very common to each other, this I think is very important, but also they are different. When we are dealing with the spaces, forms in different places, I am very much concerned with both common and particular behaviors of our users.”

Finally, Maki talks about the relationship with his master, Kenzo Tange and on how a key-point of Tange’s personality, and of that of a good mentor at large, is that he didn’t create “clones” of himself but fostered a group of independent-minded architects.

“Recently, somebody wrote about Kenzo Tange (and) described what his students, and I am one of them, have done in their life after they left Tange’s studio. None of them have done something like Tange, and (we) are also completely different one from each other.
We have tried to give our best to our master Tange while we are in his studio. Then it is different. In a way, it is an art, and we can say we are, to some extent, artists. Our ego trip is much stronger than our teacher’s.” 

Cover image: Fumihiko Maki, portrait, courtesy of PLANE-SITE

The video (click to play)

About Fuhimiko Maki
Fumihiko Maki (b. 1928) was trained under Kenzo Tange at the University of Tokyo, where he graduated in Architecture in 1952. He then completed a Master of Architecture degree at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, and began work at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, New York and, later, Sert Jackson and Associates in Cambridge. He returned to Tokyo in 1965, where he started his own firm, Maki and Associates. He is best-known for the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, New York’s Four World Trade Center, the Tokyo Spiral and Kyoto’s National Museum of Modern Art.

Fumihiko Maki Aga Khan Museum Toronto

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, 2014; photo © Shinkenchiku Sha

Fumihiko Maki Spiral building Tokio

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, Spiral building, Tokyo, 1985; photo © Toshiharu Kitajima

Fumihiko Maki 4 World Trade Center New York

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, 4 World Trade Center, New York, 2013; photo © SPI


Fumihiko Maki and Associates, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Media Lab Complex, Cambridge MA, 2009; photo © Anton Grassl / Esto

Fumihiko Maki 51 Astor Place New York

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, 51 Astor Place, New York, 2013; photo © James Ewing

About Time-Space-Existence
Time, space and existence. These three concepts sketch out the contours of the world around us — a fact especially true within architecture. Taking these words as its starting point, the GAA Foundation is set to curate its fourth collateral exhibition in the context of La Biennale di Venezia Architettura, entitled Time-Space-Existence and opening in May 2018. Featuring over 100 established and emerging architects, and unapologetically international in breadth, the exhibition provides a fascinating complement to a biennial traditionally drawn along national lines.

Useful links
PLANE-SITE: https://plane-site.com/
GAA Foundation:  http://www.globalartaffairs.org
European Cultural Centre (ECC): http://www.europeanculturalcentre.eu/index.php
Fuhimiko Maki and Associateshttp://www.maki-and-associates.co.jp/

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