Gold Medal: Fumihiko Maki

The 2011 AIA Gold Medalist began his career more than 50 years ago. ARCHITECT visits Maki and Associates, whose work in Japan, the U.S., and beyond has made Maki the first name in elegant, Japanese Modernism


Inside the office of Maki and Associates.


Maki’s work as a teacher and theorist spans his entire career, and his writings rival his buildings in terms of influence. He designed the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus where he now lectures. As a theorist, Maki articulated his beliefs on urbanism and Modernism in a memorable 1964 essay, “Investigations in Collective Form,” and in 2008, he had a book of his collected essays published. “I was in Australia a few days ago, and I visited one of its senior architects,” Maki says. “He showed me a print of my essay, which he had probably had 30 or 40 years ago when he was studying in England. He had kept it. When he knew I was coming, he wanted me to sign it.”


Maki and Associates is a small operation relative to its stature in the international design arena—in addition to the 2011 AIA Gold Medal, Maki won the Pritzker Prize in 1993—numbering about 40 architects and administrative personnel. “I always maintained a small practice because in a small firm, I can participate in all the projects equally. I can give my full attention to each project,” Maki says. “I’ve never wanted to make my firm organized like a large firm.”


The magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck Japan in March did not directly impact Maki’s studio, which is located in Tokyo, about 140 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and farther still from the area devastated by the tsunami. “We are still conducting practice normally,” Maki says. But, he adds, “After a year or two years, it will definitely affect our practice. Energy must be given to reconstruction, not to creating new projects, as we might have expected.”


Communication technology has changed Maki’s thinking about architecture—and his practice. “Without this digital technology, we cannot effectively design a building outside Japan,” Maki says. “The coordination could not be done while waiting for airmail coming from the outside. Today, it’s almost instantaneous, collaborative work.”


“In old times, you had more time between whatever you do and what you do next. Sometimes I miss that leisurely practice,” Maki says. “Also, today, because of this digital technology, so many people participate in the development of a project simultaneously. So you have to always coordinate a number of opinions and desires simultaneously.”


Maki and Associates is currently at work on Tower 4 of the new World Trade Center, and a performing arts center for Shimizu, Japan, about 60 miles west of Tokyo. A view of one of the performing arts center’s façades (shown here) reveals planes of red and blue color, which denote two auditoriums, according to Maki.


Maki is one of few architects who can boast studying, teaching, and practicing in both the U.S. and Japan. His time in the U.S. lends context to his work on an important symbolic project, Tower 4 at the World Trade Center (the model for which is pictured here). For Maki, his time in the U.S. also adds value to the award. “The U.S. is a country I knew when I was young, over 50 years ago,” Maki says. “Having this [AIA Gold Medalist] recognition adds value to my life.”

In 1956, Fumihiko Maki, Hon. FAIA, began his career as a professor of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received his first commission: an arts center for the university’s main campus. “I did my first project in the U.S. about 50 years ago,” Maki says. “Then they [Washington University] asked me to do a second project [the 2006 Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts]—after they found out I was still living.”

Born in 1928 in Tokyo, Maki studied at the University of Tokyo, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and finally the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 1960, he became involved with the Metabolist school. Five years later, Maki established his eponymous firm in Japan.

Maki attributes the decades-long gap between his first U.S. commission and his second—the 1993 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco—to “a question of human resources.” Maki and Associates initially focused on projects in Japan. “My firm was not ready at that time to do work overseas. When the opportunity arose, I took it,” Maki says.

“I was very grateful,” Maki says, speaking about being named AIA Gold Medalist for 2011. “Receiving it at the age of 80, it is almost an endorsement of what I’ve been doing my entire professional life.”


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