The essay studies two of Maki’s public interactions: his Kinoshita Lecture in CUHK School of Architecture and text from ‘Nurturing dreams- collected essays on architecture and the city.’
Of the Kinoshita lecture
Through the lecture, I understand that Maki studies a city as the effects that the complexities of constant change have on the public spaces and public interactions with the designed spaces.
His works respect the specific character of the urban site where buildings, urban spaces, streets, and footpaths are kneaded together. He speaks about a recurring theme in his designs; the collective form, represented by groups of buildings and not single structures unrelated to each other; as buildings that have reason to be together, especially over time.
Conscious and Unconscious approach
The architect implements Minimalism as a discipline to complement current over-designed buildings. The conscious decision is taken not to design extraordinary form, but to respect human behavior and not only that of the user. The entire design process is said to be unconscious as a response to a certain ambiguity in the design process, which results in certain unknown elements that the users and passers-by eventually need to handle.
Since the control that an architect can exercise on a building is limited, humanity in architecture is essential. It is an attempt to be humble to the aforementioned unknown elements of architecture. As the location of projects changes, it is identified that the users are both a specific set of characteristics that remain the same and another set that changes with nationality and location. Thus, it is crucial to observe these differences and derive an architecture that resonates with their users.
Until the end of 1970, the architect believes, all architects were observed to be in the same boat, and with the works of the great architecture of the time, Modernism became an information center.
However, later, the said boat disappeared and was later drawn into ‘open cities’ devoid of manifestos or team meetings. However, an architect must still strive to achieve empathy in design to create a humane system of architecture to counter the open city.
Of the collected essays on architecture and the city, ‘Nurturing dreams’
The essays were conceived during a period of tremendous Global changes, the second half of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century. Maki identifies himself as an architect and an urban designer; his concept of modernity denotes an individual and the city today. As a pragmatic idealist, in his opinion, it is essential for a city to offer opportunities for nurturing dreams as dreams give meaning to our very existence in the city.
His collection of text, a solidly structured theoretical framework, is sui generis and belongs to a Vitruvian tradition. Maki adopts an approach to Modernism and the city, in which the fundamental positive elements of Modernism were saved and creatively rejuvenated without a retreat to retro-utopian or stylistic acrobatics.
His fundamental motives are profound respect and care for the human beings affected by the design, which is apparent in works; Hillside Terrace and the crematorium on the ‘Hill of the Winds.’
While introducing his essays’ central ideas, Fumihiko Maki states that his writing and designing have the same start point—thinking about architecture, the city, and contemporary society. Each of his works is an evolved response to diverse conditions, including practical issues of site and program, questions of appropriate materials and technologies, responses to contemporary theoretical discussions of readings of society’s less tangible psychological needs and desires.
The two general themes of his essays are the contemporary city and the modernist philosophy of architecture and the diverse phenomena it generates. His notion of the city ranges from idealized organizational concepts to the very pragmatic realities of urban life, which have intrigued continuously and challenged him at a fundamental level.
Maki states that the west developed Modernism primarily as a movement repudiating the 19th Century’s eclectic, historicist architecture and embracing the rational functionalism demanded of the 20th Century.
City and Modernism
Urban spaces like Tokyo are incredibly different from villages due to what the architect refers to as multiple overlapping scenes, creating a dense matrix of possibilities. The architect previously perceived this matrix, especially in Tokyo in the 1960s, to be full of highly concentrated places that formed a domain that was by no means susceptible to conceptual or abstract manipulation.
These experiences translated into a mere starting point when the author entered the field of architecture. This starting point, however, was universal to all cities in its application. It was later observed through numerous design conferences and studies in the United States that
buildings could indeed give a place its own identity and that collectively they could give a distinctive character to a domain.
However, this thinking conflicted with current planning practices, which focused on imposing character from the top down. These practices were based on underlying modernist ideologies and were a product of advanced capitalism. It led to the emergence of mass society in which the identity of an individual was brought into question through numerous architectural discussions and publications.
It was in the backdrop of these cultural and social conditions of the time that nurtured the interest of the architect in the question of part and wholes. That is how the character of a building as a part could influence a city as a whole.
Architect and urban designer Fumihiko Maki quotes one of his greatest influencers, a Mexican poet Octavio Paz, as it best represents his stand on Modernism- Modernism can be seen as nothing less than an expression of how each human being intends to live his or her present; therefore there are a thousand modernisms for every thousand persons.
Where ‘present’ does not represent the current but what the individual believes to be the essence of here and now. He implores that while discussing Modernism, one must closely examine the idea of the present.