On March 2, 2010, Archives of Michigan staff responded to a call from Ted T. Ayoub to preserve the remaining records of Minoru Yamasaki. An account of that story is available in the Detroit Free Press. Yamasaki remains an important part of our international architectural heritage. This is part one of a two part blog on Yamasaki and his life as written by guest blogger Dale Allen Gyure, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Architecture, Lawrence Technological University.
Michigan architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986) was an architectural pioneer in both his professional and personal life. Professionally, he dared to challenge prevailing concepts of modernism. Personally, he was the first American architect â€œof colorâ€ to achieve fame, but despite his status was the victim of discrimination by the society he so loved. Yamasaki’s life thus embodies some of the triumphs and tragedies of American society in the twentieth century.
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. While in high school, Minoru decided to devote his life to architecture. He graduated from the University of Washington and then moved to New York City, finding employment with several prominent architectural firms. After many years of training, his talents were recognized when he was hired by the Detroit firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in 1945 to be their chief designer. His move to the Detroit area would be permanent. Four years later, Yamasaki started his own architectural office.
After achieving national recognition with the Lambert-St. Louis Airport terminal (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. He spoke of the need to reinvigorate modernism by reintroducing the lost qualities of â€œdelightâ€ and â€œserenity.â€ From historical architecture he learned to create buildings that related both to their surroundings and their occupants.
Mid Century Modernism
Yamasaki began to produce a series of buildings that moved architectural modernism in a new direction. One of the first was the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University in Detroit (1959). A simple, two-story building for meetings became a delightful experience in Yamasaki’s hands. The McGregor Center was inspired by sources as varied as Gothic cathedrals, the Taj Mahal, and traditional Zen Buddhist temples. Yamasaki later added the Education Building (1960) and the Prentiss Building and DeRoy Auditorium (1964) to the Wayne State campus.
Dale Allen Gyure is Associate Professor of Architecture at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, where he teaches classes in architectural history and theory, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation at Goucher College, where he teaches a course in American Architectural History and serves as Co-Director of the Master’s Thesis program. Dr. Gyure’s research focuses on American architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly the intersections of architecture, education, and society.
Dr. Gyure has earned a Ph.D. in architectural history from the University of Virginia, a J.D. from Indiana University, and a B.S. from Ball State University. Before becoming a historian, he practiced law in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Gyure lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan, with his wife, Jan, and two sons.