The work of Minoru Yamasaki

Short biography:

1912-1986, American architect, born in Seattle, WA. He is known for his designs combining aesthetic appeal with functional efficiency, and he preferred delicate, refined material such as wood and polished steel to the more conventional rough concrete and brick. His designs are seen in airport buildings in St. Louis (1951) and Boston (1968); at the U.S. Consulate General, Kobe, Japan; at the U.S. science pavilion for the Seattle World Exposition (1962); and at the World Trade Center complex, N.Y.C.

World Trade Center, New York, NY, USA.

    Consists of seven buildings and a shopping concourse. Most prominent are the 110-story, rectangular twin towers rising to 1,350 ft (411 m), second in height only to Chicago's Sears Tower. Construction began in 1966, the complex opened in December 1970, and was dedicated in April 1973.

    Commentary by Paul Heyer, Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America, p194-195:

    ``Yamasaki's commission to design the World Trade Center with the New York firm of Emery Roth and Sons...house(s) anyone and anything connected world trade. The program presented to Yamasaki, who was selected over a dozen other American architects, was quite explicit: twelve million square feet of floor area on a sixteen acre site, which also had to accommodate new facilities for the Hudson tubes and subway connections-all with a budget of under $500 million. The vast space needs and limited site immediately implied a high-rise development that...make(s) the adjacent drama of Manhattan's business tip seem timid in comparison....

    ``After studying more than one hundred schemes in model form, Yamasaki decided on a two-tower development to contain the nine million square feet of office space. One tower became unreasonable in size and unwieldy structurally, yet several towers became too approximate for their size and `looked too much like a housing project'; whereas two towers gave a reasonable office area on each floor, took advantage of the magnificent views, and allowed manageable structural system. The twin towers, with 110 floors rising 1,353 feet, ... (are) the tallest in the world. From observation decks at the top of the towers it...(is) possible to see 45 miles in every direction....One distinct advantage of the project's enormity is the architectural opportunity to advance the art of building. Yamasaki re-examined the skyscraper from the first principles, considering no ground so hallowed that it could not be questioned, especially in view of the potential of modern technology. The usual economic prohibition on `custom-made' was out, as virtually anything made for the Center would automatically become a stock item. `Economy is not in the sparseness of materials that we use,' said Yamasaki of his $350 million estimated cost, `but in the advancement of technology, which is the real challenge.'


    ``The structural system, deriving from the I.B.M. Building in Seattle, is impressively simple. The 208-foot wide facade is, in effect, a prefabricated steel lattice, with columns on 39-inch centers acting as wind bracing to resist all overturning forces; the central core takes only the gravity loads of the building. A very light, economical structure results by keeping the wind bracing in the most efficient place, the outside surface of the building, thus not transferring the forces through the floor membrane to the core, as in most curtain-wall structures. Office spaces will have no interior columns. In the upper floors there is as much as 40,000 square feet of office space per floor. The floor construction is of prefabricated trussed steel, only 33 inches in depth, that spans the full 60 feet to the core, and also acts as a diaphragm to stiffen the outside wall against lateral buckling forces from wind-load pressures.

    ``The other primary obstacle to be overcome in the skyscraper is the elevator system, and Yamasaki has shown himself equally imaginative here. A combination of express and local elevator banks, called a skylobby system, it is particularly efficient because it requires fewer elevator shafts-thus freeing approximately 75 percent of the total floor area for occupancy; had a conventional elevator arrangement been adopted, only approximately 50 percent would have been available. The building has three vertical zones; express elevators serve skylobbies at the forty-first and seventy-fourth floors; from these, and from the plaza level, four banks of local elevators carry passengers to each of the three zones.

    ``From the outset, Yamasaki believed that there should be an open plaza from which one could appreciate the scale of the towers upon approach. There is little or no sense of scale, for instance, standing at the base of the Empire State Building. Yamasaki's plaza...(is) sheltered from the river winds and contained by five-story buildings which...house shops, exhibition pavilions and a 250-room hotel.... `The World Trade Center should,' he said, `because of its importance, become a living representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation his ability to find greatness.' ''

    Postscript: On February 26, 1993, a large bomb inside a van in the parking garage underneath the World Trade Center was detonated, killing six people and injuring 1042, in one of the worst acts of terrorism in U.S. history. The bomb was enormous (1200 pounds of urea nitrate), comparable in size to the Oklahoma City bomb, causing a tremendous release of energy, with not a single place to go because it was all closed in. While the explosion created an enormous crater where the parkade used to stand, the terrorists intention to topple the 110 storey building was thwarted by Yamasaki's engineering skill. Because of the load carrying role of the exterior steel columns, the foundation was unaffected by the blast.



    Final Postscript: September 11, 2001 is a date we will forever remember, as we helplessly watched two hijacked airliners deliberately crash into the twin towers. The intense heat from the large quantity of burning air-fuel eventually caused major structural failure of the central core, and the towers collapsed at approximately one hour and 1-3/4 hours later. The central cores imploded with remarkable speed (nearly free-fall conditions), with the steel lattice following the rest of the structure down. Our prayers go to the families of the thousands of casualties, including those of the hundreds of emergency workers trapped in the buildings as they collapsed.















Other examples of work by Minoru Yamasaki


University Buildings of the American Midwest

    Minoru Yamasaki designed buildings for many universities in the US midwest in what is sometimes called a modified `International Style'. They include the Irwin library at Butler University, Indianapolis, IN, the Conservatory of Music and Concert Hall at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, many buildings at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, and the Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, OH. These buildings were all constructed between 1955 and 1963, and bear many similarities with each other, as well as with the steel exterior shell of the World Trade Center. Space permits me to show only a few examples.


Irwin Library at Butler University, opened in 1963.

The Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College

Master planner of the University of Regina

    One of his major works was the planning of the University of Regina and the adjoining Wascana Centre, in Regina, SK, Canada. This is a 2000 acre park containing the provincial legislature, cultural institutions, and a new university. Yamasaki was chosen because of his imaginative concepts and his ability to relate design to the environment.











    Left, University of Regina Library, opened 1967. Right, Library reading room.



    He writes:

    ``The opportunity to build a completely new and integrated university on bare land is one which occurs very infrequently in our times. Normally the planing is hampered by existing buildings which neither fit the aesthetic objectives nor are situated opportunely, or by a cumbersome road system or other factors which impede the development of a fine and truly appropriate basic concept.

    ``A University is symbolic of the highest aspiration of man, and the physical environment which is built for its activities must strive to attain the nobility of these aspirations. It must have great dignity and yet not be pompous -- it must be warm and friendly and yet must give the kind of atmosphere which is conducive to study and to research. Beyond all this, it must be a useful plant to serve the needs and functions of the University.''

    The concept for the buildings was that they would be located close enough together that passage between them in the winter could be provided through connecting corridors in the ``podium'' or first floor of all buildings in the central instructional complex. Each podium would be larger than the remaining floors of the buildings rising above it, thereby creating the impression of separate buildings rising from a common base. The buildings would be constructed around sunken, landscaped courts which would be accessible visually and physically by generous windows and doors from the corridors located along these enclosing walls.

    As part of his concept, Yamasaki proposed ``that different architects be used for the various buildings and that each one be given as much freedom as possible in the design of the buildings to sit on the podium, including freedom in the choice of materials providing only that the buildings be in architectural unity.'' The unifying concept and central feature of the instructional core of the campus was the podium. To achieve this, the level of the podium deck is constant, and the cladding of the walls of all podia would be a common material, which would provide a unified base for the buildings.

    Yamasaki's 100 year master plan for the development of Wascana Centre and the overall layout of the University of Regina were approved in 1962. He was also awarded contracts to design its first three buildings, which were opened between 1965 and 1967. There are many obvious similarities between Yamasaki's three original buildings and podium at the UofR, and the plaza buildings of the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, in the years since the initial construction of the campus, major elements of Yamasaki's plan have been abandoned. Nonetheless, his contribution remains the UofR's most distinctive and publicly recognizable feature.


The architectural firm, Minoru Yamasaki Associates, Inc. still prospers.
Check its website.



   © 2002 by Dizzy-Devil •  webmaster@planet-kerry.com