Japanese Architect Wins Field's Highest Honor
LOS ANGELES — THE Pritzker Architecture Prize for 1993 will be awarded to Fumihiko Maki in a special ceremony at the Prague Castle in the Czech Republic the evening of June 10.
Each year an individual is recognized for a lifetime of achievement with architecture's highest honor. A bronze medal and $100,000 will be presented at the ceremony, held at the historic 18th Century Prague Castle, the site of the newly formed Czech Republic's government.
Mr. Maki, the second Japanese architect to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, should be a popular recipient since his works have been acclaimed for their successful fusions of east and west. In a phone interview from Tokyo, he explained he was in the United States when he received the news that he was this year's laureate.
The call came to San Francisco, where his second US project is scheduled to open later this year: the Yerba Buena Gardens Visual Arts Center, which is literally on top of the city's Mosconne Convention Center.
Jay A. Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, describes Maki's works as "not only expressions of his time, but destined to survive mere fashion."
"He uses light in a masterful way, making it as tangible a part of every design as are the walls and roof," comments Bill Lacy, secretary to the Pritzker Jury, which selects the winner.
"In each building, he searches for a way to make transparency, translucency, and opacity exist in total harmony. He uses detail to give his structure rhythm and scale."
Maki is a self-described Modernist. He received his first US commission in 1956 when he was an assistant professor of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. His project was Steinberg Hall, an art center on campus.
Five years later, he joined the faculty at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.
Then, in 1965, he returned to Tokyo to open his own firm.
Today, Maki can take credit for some of the most exciting buildings to appear on Japan's skyline.
The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto is regarded as one of Maki's most "nearly classical" buildings. Its exterior is opaque gray, but in the atrium, its wall surfaces of rough and polished marbles give a reflection of light patterns from above.
Maki coined the phrase "megastructures." His Tokyo Gymnasium design covers nearly half a million square feet and consists of three buildings.
Of the project, he says, "The Fujisawa Gymnasium, a project that covered four years, '80-'84, was a turning point in my career leading me into increasingly complex forms.
"Many people say it looks like a helmet, or a frog, or a beetle, or a spaceship. I just wanted to make a very dynamic building. I wanted to make rich interior spaces. Then to cover them, I needed certain components ... the building has become complex enough to yield all kinds of images according to the people who look at it."
The Nippon Convention Center (Makuhari Messe) is built on land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. The total area is 1.5 million square feet divided into seven units. Each unit of space is linked to its neighbor by a long spinal axis, which is directly accessible from all adjacent areas.
"Space that reflects the will of a city or society cannot be exhausted," Maki explains. "I believe that spaces with strength and nobility can transcend function and survive on an existential level."
His longest commission was the Hillside Terrace Apartment Complex, begun in Tokyo in '69, and accomplished in six phases until its completion last year. Its apartments, shops, and restaurants have become a landmark of Maki's style and a kind of history of modernism.
The architect's first realized project in Europe, the Isar Buro Park, is currently under construction. It is an office park near the new Munich International Airport in Germany.
But Maki considers his most extraordinary project an ongoing plan to build a new village for orphans in the suburb of Cracow, Poland. It would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Janusz Korcrzak, an orphanage administrator who volunteered to die with his charges in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II.