Maki's Hillside Terrace
Spatial character usually determines what is public in the city. A metropolis can provide overwhelming spaces unavailable in small cities or villages. However, public spaces in cities do not exist just for crowds or communities; they are also places that allow people to enjoy solitude.
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Our urban spaces become much richer when there are many different layers of public spaces and meanings. In a metropolis, people take strolls, just as people in the countryside go to mountains or rivers; in that way, they are able to establish a special, spatial relationship between themselves and portions of the city.
The extent to which streets and other public spaces suitable for walking are provided can be considered an effective index in determining the quality of urbanity in a city. Sadly, the contemporary city is being gradually divested of such public character.
There are certain limits to the types of spaces that an architect can provide; at best, the spaces they design can form a relationship with parts of the city bordering on the site to create landscapes that many people can share. Cities like Tokyo today possess few standards of urban form.
Architects are required to create new landscapes in an urban environment full of heterogeneous elements. The challenge is the same whether the project in question is a single building or a complex of buildings: the creation of topos in the city through the medium of landscape.
Looking back, I believe that the process that led from Hillside Terrace's first phase to the sixth phase suggests not only the changes in our notion of public space and the evolution of modernism, but also what I would call "the landscape of time."
The singular sense of place that people strolling among the various buildings and outdoor spaces of Hillside Terrace feel is no accident. It is the result of a deliberate design approach that has created continuous unfolding sequences of spaces and views, taking advantage of the site's natural topography and, indeed, enhancing it with subtle shifts in the architectural ground plane.
The various green areas, plazas, sunken gardens, exterior stairs, sidewalks, and transparent entrance halls are interconnected by views to one another, giving an impression of substantial depth and extent across the site.
One does not physically experience urban space by simply gazing at buildings or looking at them from above — space is experienced only through sequential movement. Like music, movement in space can be a source of elemental joy, something to which one can give oneself up entirely.
At Hillside Terrace, long views pass through multiple spatial boundaries created by topography, stairs, roads, trees, and low walls. Several possible loops are offered for passage through the site and back to the street, and glimpses of greenery seen around the corner are just as important as fully transparent views for suggesting a path.
Although their architectural expression has varied in response to the times, the buildings of phases one through six share a consistent scale of massing, using a combination of staggered, cubical volumes, generally one and two stories tall, with apartment blocks frequently lifted above street level on transparent and/or recessed ground-floor volumes.
Several unifying spatial elements, such as corner entrances and interior stairs echoing exterior topography, are repeated in different guises to create a sense of continuous townscape while allowing localized variations.
Within such an evolving framework, I have viewed each individual building design from the perspective of its urban presence and meaning — aiming to discover in this process a modern language for the creation of group form.
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Fumihiko Maki is one of Japan's most prolific and distinguished architects, in practice since the 1960s. His works include projects in Japan, North and South America, Europe, and Asia. He received the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993. Among his works are the recent MIT Media Lab addition, and the new 4 World Trade Center tower currently under construction in New York City.
This article is excerpted from Nurturing Dreams: Collected Essays on Architecture and the City by Fumihiko Maki, edited by Mark Mulligan, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, MIT Press.