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The Story of 20th Century New Formalism Architecture

“The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace…”

– Minoru Yamasaki

Minoru Yamasaki

Winter 1912

A Legacy Was Born

Minoru Yamasaki was born to a struggling family in a poor Japanese-American neighborhood of Seattle. He lived his first few years in a tenement without indoor bathrooms. Yamasaki graduated from Garfield Senior High School in Seattle. While in high school, Minoru decided to devote his life to architecture. He enrolled in the University of Washington program in architecture in 1929. Yamasaki graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1934. During his college years, faculty member Lionel Pries encouraged Minoru’s interest in Architecture. He earned money to pay for his tuition by working at an Alaskan salmon cannery.

Spring 1934

The Young Architect from Seattle

Minoru graduated from the University of Washington and moved to New York City in the 1930s. He enrolled in New York University and earned a master’s degree in architecture. Yamasaki found employment with several prominent architectural firms including Shreve, Lamb & Harmon who designed the Empire State Building.

Summer 1945

From the West to the Mid-West

In 1945 the Detroit firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls recognized Minoru Yamasaki’s talents and hired him as their chief designer. Four years later Yamasaki started his own architectural office. After achieving national recognition with the Lambert-St. Louis Airport terminal in 1956, Yamasaki’s architecture underwent a drastic change. Inspired by great architecture from the past, Yamasaki turned toward a gentler, more decorated style of modernism, and away from the more severe, rectangular glass box style that characterized some of his early work and much of contemporary architecture.

Fall 1959

America Rises – The Twin Towers

Minoru Yamasaki wedded his interests in modernism, history, and human behavior to create a uniquely modern architecture.  This marriage can be seen in such nationally-admired works as the Reynolds Metals Regional Sales Office (Southfield, MI, 1961) and the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (Detroit, 1963). His success led to favorable reviews in architectural journals, museum exhibitions of his work, and his most prominent commission, the World Trade Center in New York City (1970-73). Yamasaki created a five-acre complex with two 110-story towers – which were briefly the tallest buildings in the world – as the centerpiece.


at the Archives of Michigan

In addition to content on Michiganology, you can find more original material and published books on Minoru Yamasaki at the Archives of Michigan.