Minoru Yamasaki

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Minoru Yamasaki
山崎 實
Minoru Yamasaki.jpg
Born(1912-12-01)December 1, 1912
DiedFebruary 6, 1986(1986-02-06) (aged 73)
Alma materUniversity of Washington
New York University
  • Teruko Hirashiki
    (m. 1941; div. 1961)
  • Peggy Watty
    (m. 1961; div. 1963)
  • Teruko Hirashiki
    (m. 1969)
Children3, including documentary photographer Taro Yamasaki
DesignInspiration from Gothic architecture and usage of narrow vertical windows

Minoru Yamasaki (山崎 實, Yamasaki Minoru, December 1, 1912 – February 6, 1986)[1][2][3] was an American architect, best known for designing the original World Trade Center in New York City and several other large-scale projects.[4] Yamasaki was one of the most prominent architects of the 20th century. He and fellow architect Edward Durell Stone are generally considered to be the two master practitioners of "New Formalism".[5][6]

During his three-decade career, he or his firm designed over 250 buildings.[7] His firm, Yamasaki & Associates, closed on December 31, 2009.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of John Tsunejiro Yamasaki and Hana Yamasaki, issei Japanese immigrants.[9][4] The family later moved to Auburn, Washington, and he graduated from Garfield Senior High School in Seattle. He enrolled in the University of Washington program in architecture in 1929, and graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) in 1934.[10] During his college years, he was strongly encouraged by faculty member Lionel Pries. He earned money to pay for his tuition by working at an Alaskan salmon cannery,[11] working five summers and earning $50 a month, plus 25 cents an hour in overtime pay.[1]

In part to escape anti-Japanese prejudice, he moved to Manhattan in 1934, with $40 and no job prospects.[12] He wrapped dishes for an importing company until he found work as a draftsman and engineer.[1] He enrolled at New York University for a master's degree in architecture and got a job with the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, designers of the Empire State Building. The firm helped Yamasaki avoid internment as a Japanese-American during World War II, and he himself sheltered his parents in New York City.[9][13] After leaving Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, Yamasaki worked briefly for Harrison & Abramovitz and Raymond Loewy.

In 1945, Yamasaki moved to Detroit, where he secured a position with Smith, Hinchman & Grylls.[12][14] Yamasaki left the firm in 1949, and started his own partnership.[14] He worked from Birmingham and Troy, Michigan. One of the first projects he designed at his own firm was Ruhl's Bakery at 7 Mile Road and Monica Street in Detroit.[15]


Pruitt–Igoe housing project, St. Louis, 1954 (demolished 1972–1976)

Yamasaki's first major project was the Pruitt–Igoe public housing project in St. Louis in 1955. Despite his love of traditional Japanese design and ornamentation, this was a stark, modernist concrete structure, severely constricted by a tight budget. The housing project soon experienced so many problems that it was demolished starting in 1972, less than twenty years after its completion. Its destruction would be considered by architectural historian Charles Jencks to be the symbolic end of modernist architecture.[4]

In 1955, he also designed the "sleek" terminal at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport which led to his 1959 commission to design the Dhahran International Airport in Saudi Arabia. In the 1950s, Yamasaki was commissioned by the Reynolds Company to design an aluminum-wrapped building in Southfield, Michigan, which would "symbolize the auto industry's past and future progress with aluminum."[16] The three-story glass building wrapped in aluminum, known as the Reynolds Metals Company's Great Lakes Sales Headquarters Building, was also supposed to reinforce the company's main product and showcase its admirable characteristics of strength and beauty.[17]

Yamasaki's first widely-acclaimed design was the Pacific Science Center, with its iconic lacy and airy decorative arches. It was constructed by the City of Seattle for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.[9] The building raised his public profile so much that he was featured on the cover of Time magazine.[18]

The original World Trade Center (1973–2001) was the most widely-known of Yamasaki's buildings

In the post-war period, he created a number of office buildings which led to his innovative design of the 1,360 ft (410 m) towers of the World Trade Center in 1964, which began construction March 21, 1966.[19] The first of the towers was finished in 1970.[20] Many of his buildings feature superficial details inspired by the pointed arches of Gothic architecture, and make use of extremely narrow vertical windows. This narrow-windowed style arose from his own personal fear of heights.[21]

One particular design challenge of the World Trade Center's design related to the efficacy of the elevator system, which became unique in the world when it was first opened for service. Yamasaki employed the fastest elevators at the time, running at 1,700 feet (520 m) per minute. Instead of placing a traditional large cluster of full-height elevator shafts in the core of each tower, Yamasaki created the Twin Towers' "Skylobby" system. The Skylobby design created three separate, connected elevator systems which would serve different zones of the building, depending on which floor was chosen, saving approximately 70% of the space which would have been required for traditional shafts. The space saved was then used for additional office space.[22] Internally, each office floor was a vast open space unimpeded by support columns, ready to be subdivided as the tenants might choose.

In 1978, Yamasaki designed the Federal Reserve Bank tower in Richmond, Virginia. The work was designed with a similar external appearance as the World Trade Center complex, with its narrow fenestration, and now stands at 394 ft (120 m).[23][24]

Yamasaki was a member of the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, created in 1961 to restore the grand avenue in Washington, DC, but he resigned after disagreements and disillusionment with the design by committee approach.[25]

After partnering with Emery Roth and Sons on the design of the World Trade Center, the collaboration continued with other projects including new buildings at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC[26]

The campus for the University of Regina was designed in tandem with Yamasaki's plan for Wascana Centre, a park built around Wascana Lake in Regina, Saskatchewan. The original campus design was approved in 1962. Yamasaki was awarded contracts to design the first three buildings: the Classroom Building, the Laboratory Building, and the Dr. John Archer Library, which were built between 1963 and 1967.[27]

Yamasaki designed two notable synagogues, North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois (1964), and Temple Beth El, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1973). He designed a number of buildings on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota between 1958 and 1968.[28]

After criticism of his dramatically cantilevered Rainier Tower (1977) in Seattle, Yamasaki became less adventurous in his designs during the last decade of his career.[12]


Despite the many buildings he completed, Yamasaki's reputation faded along with the overall decline of modernism towards the end of the 20th century. Two of his major projects, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, and the original World Trade Center, shared the dubious symbolic distinction of being destroyed while recorded by live TV broadcasts.[29] In many ways, these best-known works ran counter to Yamasaki's own design principles, and he later regretted his reluctant acceptance of architectural compromises dictated by the clients of these projects.[30][12] Several others of his buildings have also been demolished.

Yamasaki collaborated closely with structural engineers, including John Skilling, Leslie Roberts, and Jack Christiansen, to produce some of his innovative architectural designs.[12] He strived to achieve "serenity, surprise, and delight" in his humanistic modernist buildings and their surrounds.[12]

Decades after his death, Yamasaki's buildings and legacy would be re-assessed more sympathetically by some architectural critics.[30][29][12] Several of his buildings have now been restored in accordance with his original designs, and his McGregor Memorial Conference Center was awarded National Historic Landmark status in 2015.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Yamasaki was first married in 1941 to Teruko "Teri" Hirashiki. They had three children together: Carol, Taro, and Kim.[9] They divorced in 1961 and Yamasaki married Peggy Watty. He and Watty divorced two years later, and Yamasaki married a third time briefly[citation needed] before remarrying Teruko in 1969. In a 1969 Detroit News article about the remarriage, Yamasaki said "I'm just going to be nicer to her".[31]

Yamasaki suffered from health problems for at least three decades, and ulcers caused surgical removal of much of his stomach in 1953.[12] Over time, he endured several more operations on his stomach.[30] His health was not improved by increasingly heavy drinking towards the end of his life.[30] Yamasaki died of stomach cancer on February 6, 1986, at the age of 73.[6][1]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Rimer, Sara (February 9, 1986). "Minoru Yamasaki, Architect of World Transit Center, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  2. ^ Murphy, Dean (February 9, 1986). "Architect Minoru Yamasaki Dies at 73: Designs Include Century Plaza Towers, N.Y. World Trade Center". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  3. ^ "World Trade Center architect's grave". Flickr. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  4. ^ a b c Davidson, Justin (August 27, 2011). "The Encyclopedia of 9/11: Yamasaki, Minoru: An architect whose legacy didn't work out as he'd planned". New York.
  5. ^ "Architecture and Design of the Music Center". Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. Archived from the original on October 11, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2011.; excerpting from HABS documentation: "Los Angeles Music Center". Historic American Buildings Survey.
  6. ^ a b "World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki wanted 'living symbol' for humanity". Federal Way Mirror. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  7. ^ "MINORU YAMASAKI, FAIA (1912-1986)". USModernist. Retrieved 2021-10-30.
  8. ^ Gallagher, John (28 January 2010). "A Once Eminent Firm Meets a Bitter End". Architectural Record. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  9. ^ a b c d Crowley, Walt (3 March 2003). "Yamasaki, Minoru (1912-1986), Seattle-born architect of New York's World Trade Center". HistoryLink. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  10. ^ a b Esterow, Milton (21 September 1962). "Architect Named for Trade Center". The New York Times. p. 26.
  11. ^ "Center Will Reflect Architectural Collaboration". The New York Times. January 19, 1964.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Reader, Bill (9 September 2021). "World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki faced discrimination, criticism and controversy, but his work elevated design — and the Seattle skyline". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2021-10-30.
  13. ^ "Minoru Yamasaki 1912-". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  14. ^ a b Huxtable, Ada Louise (November 25, 1962). "Pools, Domes, Yamasaki - Debate". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Interview with owner's daughter. Original architectural drawings donated to the University of Michigan.
  16. ^ "Reynolds Review". Reynolds Review (company magazine). Reynolds Metals Papers, Virginia Historical Society. 1959.
  17. ^ Ong Yan, Grace (2012). "Wrapping Aluminum at the Reynolds Metals Company". Design and Culture. 4 (3): 299–323. doi:10.2752/175470812X13361292229113. S2CID 112315246.
  18. ^ a b "Art: The Road to Xanadu". Time. LXXXI (3): cover. 18 Jan 1963.
  19. ^ Remarks by the Hon. Richard J. Hughes, World Trade Center Press Conference, New York Hilton Hotel, January 18, 1964.
  20. ^ "History of the Twin Towers". Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
  21. ^ James, Glanz; Lipton, Eric (2003). City in the sky: the rise and fall of the World Trade Center. Macmillan. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-8050-7428-4.
  22. ^ Remarks by Lee K. Jaffee, World Trade Center Press Conference, New York Hilton Hotel, January 18, 1964.
  23. ^ "Federal Reserve Bank Building, Richmond". Emporis. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  24. ^ "Federal Reserve Bank". Architecture Richmond. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  25. ^ Huxtable, Ada Louise (2 February 1964). "N.Y.C. Architectural Ups and Downs". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Robbins, William (26 March 1967). "2 Firms Are Welding Abilities to Plan World Trade Center". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  27. ^ Riddell, William A. The First Decade, 1960-1970. Regina: University of Regina, 1974. pp.91-95.
  28. ^ "Historical Building Information". Carleton College. 1 February 2021. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  29. ^ a b Ramirez, Enrique (10 September 2021). "An experimental biography of Minoru Yamasaki runs counter to the familiar—and tragic—appraisals of his career". The Architect’s Newspaper. Retrieved 2021-10-30.
  30. ^ a b c d e Gyure, Dale Allen (27 March 2018). "Revisiting the Faded Reputation of Minoru Yamasaki". Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 2021-10-30.
  31. ^ "Minoru Yamasaki, world-class architect". The Detroit News. August 14, 1998. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  32. ^ "Horace Mann corporate headquarters doubles as architectural landmark". The State Journal-Register. Springfield, Illinois. 5 September 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Yamasaki, Minoru (1979). A Life in Architecture. New York: Weatherhill. ISBN 978-0-8348-0136-3.
  • Nobel, Philip (2005). Sixteen Acres: The rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. London: Granta. ISBN 978-1-8620-7713-3.
  • Beal, Justin (2021). Sandfuture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-54309-5.

External links[edit]