Fumihiko Maki and Collective Form: Three Paradigms

Fumihiko Maki

Fumihiko Maki

Fumihiko Maki graduated in 1952 from the University of Tokyo.

In his final undergraduate years he took part in Tange Lab , an incubator set up by Kenzo Tange for Japanese post war reconstruction. In 1953, he made a trip to United States to finish his education and started up a professional relationship with the States which was to span his whole life.

Between 1958 and 1960, Fumihiko Maki travelled throughout Europe, the Middle East and India where he visited the work of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, which was being completed that time.

These travels confirmed his interest in grouped buildings and in city as collective creation. In spite of being involved in Metabolist movement from the start he was never keen on mega forms and mega-structures and continued his path on individual research, distancing himself from technological utopia.

In 1960 he was invited to attend the Team X conference in France by Smithson’s. Although he was seen as a modern architect his strong links to tradition and vernacular have helped him to understand the subordination existing between constructed individuality and achieving a cohesive urban form.

In 1962, Maki returned to Harvard, where at that time Jose Luis Sert was dean, to work as an associate professor. In 1965, he went back to Tokyo and two years later he commenced the first phase of Hillside Terrace.

In 1993 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Maki co-authored, along with Masato Otaka, an article titled ‘Group Form’. In this text he stated that it made no sense to study building in isolated entities and that as until then the collective form had not been tackled properly.

He defined three different approaches to form: Compositional, Structural and Sequential. The first is two dimensional, takes place on one plane and static. The second is the large framework which encompasses all the functions of a complex organism or an urban nucleus. And the third refers to the collective form or shifting group which evolves from a spatially interconnected elements.

‘Group Form’ is the form defined by a group of buildings which share strong physical relationships. It is based on four factors: the basic materials and the construction methods; the intelligent and dramatic use of geography and topography; the human scale and lastly the sequence of development. Bringing together the basic elements which form part of these aforementioned factors such as the constructions, the open spaces between volumes and the reiterated use of certain visual effects, creates a sensation over time which is perceived as natural phenomenon of producing form.

For Maki, the architectural spaces represent the stage, the human beings as actors, and the events of urban life constitute the actual play.

Group Form both outlines the collectivity and unites a group of buildings in functional, spatial and social terms. This is something which emerges bottom up, from a specific social group, not top down, from financial or political powers. In this sense, Group Form is a veiled critique by Fumihiko Maki of the Megaform of Metabolism.

Group Form
Collective Form

This diagram which appears in the later versions of Maki text, Collective Form, Three paradigms, is a schematic representation of three ways of classifying the Collective Form. The first type, Compositional Form, is based on the rules of composition and encompassing the cases of planned cities such as Chandigarh or Brasilia. The second, the Megaform is present in Metabolist projects such as Agricultural City by Kirokawa or the Tokyo Bay program by Tange Lab. Lastly, the Group Form pertains to, for instance, the stepped villages of the Greek islands or the Dogon villages where time is the key player.

Dogon village ,Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Tokyo Bay plan by Kenzo Tange
Tokyo Bay plan by Tange Lab

Hillside Terrace can be identified with the third diagram as its formal resolution is far removed from any composition or style by the author and yet at the same time it eschews this idea of grandeur which is often associated with mega structures.

Hillside Terrace, Tokyo
Hillside Terrace, Tokyo
Hillside Terrace, Tokyo
Hillside Terrace, Tokyo
Hillside Terrace, Tokyo
Hillside Terrace, Tokyo

The priority for urban design, according to Maki, is to recognize meaning. What is planner’s goal when working on a specific site? What are they aiming to express? These reflections are often lost due to the difficulty in managing an overly ambitious programme in the aim for its implementation to create a controlled environment. The next step would involve working on and attempting to humanize this meaning.

In Hillside Terrace, the attempt is to artificially recreate in one part of Tokyo the complex mechanisms and connections which arise spontaneously in the historic city. The approach involved selecting a model or motif, a pattern, which could undergo formal and spatial operations and have the sufficient capacity to generate variations.

Hillside Terrace is a miniature city, built in phases, which took over thirty years to complete and is home to low-rise buildings, interconnected public spaces, low walls, thresholds, passageways and vegetation.

Hillside Terrace, sums up thirty years of urban design in Tokyo, thirty years in modern history of architecture and thirty years in the professional career of Fumihiko Maki.

Hillside Terrace is a world apart, separated from downtown Tokyo which can be made out in the distance. Maki aimed to build a continuous urban landscape by using a combination of staggered volumes which move forward and backward in relation to the street. The ground floors are in some cases transparent or are set back and lend community to spatial elements such as corner accesses or interior staircases in the aim to create a small city atmosphere within a megalopolis. For Maki, Urban Design is something which is tangible, finite, physical and anchored to the locations rather than merely being an abstract theory founded on urban policies, planning regulations and social issues.

The chaos and fascination of Tokyo come together in Hillside Terrace based on that slow collective process of creating form which has left outstanding historical examples in its wake due to its unexpected urban relationships, as in the case of the Greek city or the small rural villages of the Mediterranean coast. Hillside Terrace fulfils a collective desire: that universal emotion invoked by small-scale charm.

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