The work of Minoru Yamasaki
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
``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
``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
``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
``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.