Copper Country Architects

Biographical Dictionary of Copper Country Architects

Yamasaki & Associates

by Nicole Measel.

Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986) is best known as the architect of the World Trade Center towers. He had a prolific career designing in modernist styles influenced by Japanese traditions and romanticism.

Biography

Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 1912. He was a first-generation Japanese-American, and growing up he was faced with hardships such as poverty and discrimination. Upon deciding to go to college he was unsure of what major to pursue, but that changed after speaking with his uncle, Koken Ito. His uncle was an architect and once when visiting Yamasaki, he showed him the plans for the U.S. Embassy building in Tokyo. Yamasaki was impressed with these plans, which led him to pursue a degree in architecture,1 and he ended up attending the University of Washington and graduated in 1934 with a degree in architecture.2

After graduating from the University of Washington, Yamasaki relocated to New York and obtained a master’s degree in architecture from New York University. While in New York, he worked for such architecture firms as Shreve, Lamb, & Harmon (the firm responsible for designing the Empire State Building),3 and Harrison, Fouilhoux, & Abramovitz (the firm responsible for designing Rockefeller Center). Then in 1945, Yamasaki made the move to Detroit and worked as chief of design for the firm Smith Hinchman & Grylls. In 1949 he left to form his own firm in Detroit with fellow Smith Hinchman & Grylls architects George Hellmuth and Joseph Leinweber. Finally, in 1955, Minoru split off and formed his own architecture firm, Yamasaki & Associates, which still exists today in Troy, Michigan.4

Yamasaki had quite an extraordinary career, having been involved in the design of over three hundred buildings. Among some of his more famous buildings are Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angles; Rainier Tower and Pacific Science Center, both in Seattle; and the air terminals in St. Louis and in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Though these were extraordinary pieces of work, his most famous buildings by far were the World Trade Center Towers in New York City, which were the tallest buildings in New York City until their destruction due to a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The towers took many years in the making. Minoru got the commission to design them in 1963, groundbreaking was in 1966, they were open in 1973, but not completely finished until 1977.5 Ironically, at the time of their completion many critics felt the towers were too tall, and out of scale with the rest of the buildings in Manhattan. At the time of their Architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote, “The buildings remain an occasion to mourn; they never should have been built.”

When analyzing Yamasaki’s work, however large or small it may be, there are some similarities in the style of the structures (though his style did change over time). Early in his career, he had a tendency to create buildings that would be considered “modernist style,” which to him represented calmness and world peace. One of his first design changes occurred when he went from the “modernist style” which was based on minimalism, to something that was much more decorative, Japanese architecture. This change came in the 1950’s, when Yamasaki traveled to Japan for a month to study Japanese architecture. His time in Japan had a big impact on Yamasaki and he ended up incorporating Japanese style in many of his designs.6 Though Yamasaki had many different styles throughout his career, his signature style consisted of Gothic arches, strong vertical elements, and peaceful plazas and fountains.

Not only did Yamasaki have an interesting career, but he had a rather interesting personal life as well. In 1941, he married a woman by the name of Teruko Hirashiki, and together they had three children. Twenty years later, in 1961, he divorced Teruko and married Peggy Watty. The marriage to Peggy only lasted two years, at which point he divorced her and married an imported Japanese wife, which also ended in divorce. Finally, in 1969 he remarried his first wife Teruko,7 and lived with her in Troy, Michigan, until 1974 when they moved to Bloomfield Hills into a house that Yamasaki designed. This house was a 7000 square foot, two-story house, with five bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths. Yamasaki and his wife lived there together until his death from cancer on February 6, 1986.8

Buildings

Notes

  1. Vivian M. Baulch, “Minoru Yamasaki, World-Class Architect,” The Detroit News, 6 July 2006.
  2. History Link, 6 July 2006, History Link, 6 July 2006.
  3. Minoru Yamasaki” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 14 June 2006, 5 July 2006.
  4. Yamasaki & Associates, 6 July 2006, 6 July 2006.
  5. Vivian M. Baulch, “Minoru Yamasaki, World-Class Architect,” The Detroit News, 6 July 2006.
  6. History Link, 6 July 2006, History Link, 6 July 2006.
  7. Vivian M. Baulch, “Minoru Yamasaki, World-Class Architect,” The Detroit News, 6 July 2006.
  8. History Link, 6 July 2006, History Link, 6 July 2006.

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