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GSD Grad Speaks on Rebuilding Tower 4

One of the most accomplished alums of the Graduate School of Design (GSD) returned to his old stomping grounds on Friday after a 42-year hiatus, speaking to a crowd about his work on a new World Trade Center tower and the importance of fitting a building’s design to its context.

Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, who won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993 and taught at the GSD from 1962 to 1965, also emphasized the use of aesthetics that are common across cultures.

“Many people are saying globalizations [sic] are killing local cultures, but it seems to me we should not forget universal values,” said Maki, speaking in a packed Gund Auditorium at the GSD.

Maki’s projects now include Tower 4 of the new World Trade Center in New York City, the new United Nations building in Toronto, and the Media Lab Extension at MIT, among others.

In Tokyo alone, he has built 30 works, including the Spiral, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, and the TV Asahi.

“His work is grounded in modernist tradition, but it is always in its time fresh and contemporary,” said Toshiko Mori, chair of the GSD’s department of architecture.

She said Maki’s buildings in Tokyo provide “examples of good taste in a city filled with kitsch and especially mundane buildings.”

After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Maki attended the GSD, receiving his masters in 1954. He taught at Washington University in St. Louis for four years before serving on the GSD faculty. In 1965, he went back to Japan to found the firm Maki and Associates in Tokyo.

In his lecture, titled “On Scenery,” Maki displayed slides of his buildings and explained in technical terms how his designs interacted with the surrounding scenery, bringing out the basic principles that underlie his vision of architectural design.

Maki said that a “hide-and-seek” sensibility is one of the universal values that he believes spans across local cultures.

“Human beings inherited DNA from animals,” Maki said. “The most important thing for an animal is to find places where they can hide but still see outside.”

Maki gave a preview of his design for World Trade Center Tower 4, slated for completion in 2012.

“We tried to make a very simple, very effective form,” Maki said.

Maki said that each side of the building now under construction on Ground Zero would exhibit a different character.

“When you are coming out of the elevator bank, you see trees and also a park,” Maki said.

Meanwhile, another side is an “entirely different sort of environment, more vibrant.”

Maki ended with the famous words of Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote that a structure must exhibit the qualities of utilitas, firmitas, venustas—translated as “useful, strong, and beautiful.”

But Maki said that by venustas Vitruvius really meant “delight.”

“Beauty is subject to time, individual tastes, whereas delight transcends time,” Maki said. “Today we have tremendous excitement in terms of technology, but perhaps we shouldn’t forget these kinds of qualities.”

—Staff writer Angela A. Sun can be reached at asun@fas.harvard.edu.

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