Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Yamasaki, Minoru

Minoru Yamasaki was one of the most prominent American architects of the 20th century, best known for his design of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Born in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 1912 to Japanese immigrants, Yamasaki grew up in Auburn, Washington. After graduating from high school in 1929 at the age of 16, he enrolled in the University of Washington’s architecture program where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1934. 

After graduation, Yamasaki moved to New York City where he earned a master’s degree in architecture from New York University and was hired as a draftsman by the firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, and later by the firm of Harrison, Fouilhoux and Abramovitz. During World War II, Yamasaki was able to avoid internment by the government and provide protection for his parents by housing them in his two-room New York City apartment. 

In 1945, Yamasaki moved to Detroit, Michigan. He was hired by the firm of Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls as their head designer where he remained until 1949. Among his achievements there were the design of the addition to Detroit’s Federal Reserve Bank (1946), and the administration building at the General Motors Proving Ground (1950). Because restrictive covenants prevented him from renting or buying property in many metro-Detroit communities, he eventually settled with his family on a 7.5-acre farmstead in Troy, Michigan, where they remained for 25 years. 

In 1949, Yamasaki and two of his colleagues, George Hellmuth and Joseph Leinweber, formed their own partnership. However, a near fatal bout with stomach cancer in 1954 forced Yamasaki to end the partnership. In 1955, he founded the firm Yamasaki & Associates with Leinweber in Troy.

Yamasaki’s early training and experience were shaped by the austerity and practicality of the modern and international style movements. His travels to Japan, Italy, and India triggered a stylistic change and a shift in perspective and aesthetic ambition away from the monotonous “glass boxes” designed by his contemporaries to a more humanized style combining historic decorative elements with new technology. In Yamasaki’s words, “beauty through structural clarity and fidelity to technology becomes culture.”

From 1955 to 1975, Yamasaki & Associates turned out an incredible number of buildings, most notably Wayne State University’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1958), the Federal Science Pavilion at Seattle World’s Fair (1962), Michigan Consolidated Gas Company headquarters (now One Woodward) in Downtown Detroit (1963), the World Trade Center in New York City (1972), and many others around the world. 

During his career, Yamasaki won three American Institute of Architects’ First Honor Awards, election to Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1960 and the cover story in Time on January 18, 1963. Yamasaki died of stomach cancer on February 7, 1986 at the age of 73. His firm, Yamasaki & Associates, closed on December 31, 2009. 



Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium at Wayne State designed by Minoru Yamasaki, 1964 - 2012.022.676

Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building designed by Minoru Yamasaki, 1965 - 2011.036.193

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