Minoru Yamasaki wedded his interests in modernism, history, and human behavior to create a uniquely modern architecture, seen in such nationally-admired works as the Reynolds Metals Regional Sales Office (Southfield, MI, 1961) and the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (Detroit, 1963). His success led to favorable reviews in architectural journals, museum exhibitions of his work, and his most prominent commission, the World Trade Center in New York City (1970-73). Yamasaki created a five-acre complex with two 110-story towers – which were briefly the tallest buildings in the world – as the centerpiece.
Despite his professional accomplishments, Yamasaki’s life was tainted by prejudice like so many other Japanese-Americans of his generation. Growing up in the Seattle area he was subjected to numerous incidents of hostility and discrimination. After the attack on Pearl Harbor Yamasaki’s father lost a shoe store job he had held for over twenty years. His parents had to move into Minoru’s New York apartment to avoid the West Coast resettlement camps. Later, when his Detroit-based architectural practice became successful, Yamasaki looked to buy or rent a house in the affluent suburbs around the city before realizing that he was excluded from those locations due to his ethnicity. Even a 1963 Time magazine cover story, which was favorable to Yamasaki and his designs, contained veiled references to traditional cultural stereotypes.
Yamasaki died in 1986, his reputation partially obscured by hostile critical responses to the World Trade Center and his Pruitt-Igoe Housing Projects (St. Louis, 1955). However, as time passed more people have realized that public housing projects like Pruitt-Igoe were flawed at their conception and not the fault of the individual designers; likewise, since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center towers have been more favorably assessed by many in the architectural world.
Recently Yamasaki and Associates closed, bringing an end to one of the most storied firms in American architecture. Through the efforts of the State Historic Preservation Office, the Archives of Michigan, and many interested parties, much of Minoru Yamasaki’s original material was saved and will be preserved by the Archives in recognition of his significant contribution to modern architecture.
Come see original Minoru Yamasaki materials at the “Put it on Paper” exhibit! The exhibit, spotlighting creators and the creative process, can be seen at the Michigan Historical Museum through August 25, 2013.
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