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OBITUARY | Farewell To Fumihiko Maki, Trailblazer, Architect Extraordinaire

Famed architect Fumihiko Maki passed away at 95, leaving a legacy marked by prestigious accolades and an enduring influence on global architecture.



Architect Fumihiko Maki. May 17, 2013 (©Sankei)

World-renowned architect Fumihiko Maki, celebrated for his style, including Chiba City's Makuhari Messe, died of natural causes on June 6. He was 95. The celebrated architect was a Praemium Imperiale Laureate (Architecture) and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize. His funeral was a private ceremony attended only by close friends and family members.

"Makuhari Messe," one of Maki Fumihiko's masterpieces, in Mihama Ward, Chiba City, June 2021 (©Kyodo)

Life and Achievements

A Tokyo native, Maki graduated from the University of Tokyo Department of Architecture before moving to the United States. After completing his graduate studies at Harvard University, he began teaching at universities in the US. Subsequently, he founded his architecture firm, Maki and Associates, in 1965. Pursuing modernist architecture in the 20th-century style, he earned acclaim for his refined works. From 1979 to 1989, he also taught at the University of Tokyo.

Maki's notable works include Makuhari Messe, Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, and Hillside Terrace in Shibuya, Tokyo. Overseas, many more of his building designs are also acclaimed. One example is a skyscraper constructed on the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City after 9/11.

Architect Fumihiko Maki holds a press conference in Tokyo on the problems of the construction of the new National Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics. July 30, 2015 (©Sankei)

In the solicitation to design Japan's new National Stadium, Zaha Hadid's design won the bid. However, Maki and others objected to the scale and cost of her design. Eventually, the project was canceled and the competition was restarted.

In 1993, Maki received the prestigious Pritzker Prize, often likened to the Nobel Prize of architecture. He was the second Japanese architect to receive the prize, following Kenzo Tange. Thereafter, the Japan Art Association recognized him as its 1999 Praemium Imperiale Laureate in Architecture. Later, in 2011, he was presented with the Gold Medal of the Australian Institute of Architects.

Never a Dull Work

Maki was influenced by modern architectural masters like Le Corbusier. While he absorbed modern architecture's functional advantages, he also actively incorporated contemporary materials into his work. 

"Hillside Terrace, a low-rise building that blends into the streetscape." Designed by world-renowned architect Fumihiko Maki. May 17, 2013 (©Sankei)

Works such as his Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art designed with environmental harmony in mind, have consistently drawn attention and discussion. Makuhari Messe, with its distinctive stainless-steel helmet-like roof, has also sparked considerable interest and debate.

Another of Maki's works is Hillside Terrace in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. The complex features low-rise concrete buildings housing shops, offices, and residences alongside small plazas. It effectively preserves existing trees, creating a lush environment with alleys and gardens.

Architectural Philosophy and Influence

"Architecture, unlike literature, cannot be created by oneself but requires a client to commission it," Maki once said. "I was fortunate to have met excellent clients and to contribute to modest urban development amid the city's transformation."

The 1999 Praemium Imperiale laureates line up for a commemorative photograph. Fumihiko Maki is in the front row on the left. With him are Oscar Peterson, Pina Bausch, Anselm Kiefer, Jean-Louis Bourgeois, and Louise Bourgeois' representative. October 27, 1999 (©Sankei)

During an interview upon receiving the Praemium Imperiale, he stated, "An architect's determination must shine through in the meticulousness of details." In Maki's buildings, excellence in overall design stemmed from meticulous attention to detail, all the way to small matters such as staircase railings and door knobs.

As a revered figure in the global architecture community, his statements, informed by a wealth of knowledge, carried significant weight. Indeed, canceling Zaha's top proposal for the new National Stadium underscored his influential impact.

In the past, Maki once remarked, "I am constantly thinking about architecture. Fortunately, I can do it anywhere as long as I have paper and pencil. I even think about it while I'm sleeping at night."

Fumihiko Maki harbored a deep passion for architecture, complemented by an intellectual bearing and a calm demeanor. He truly embodied the essence of an architect.

"House of Hope," a multipurpose hall designed by Fumihiko Maki, March 26, 2018, in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture (©Sankei by Mizuho Miyazaki)


(Read the related articles in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun