”Above all, with political turmoil, traffic problems, vast increases in population and the tremendous impact of the machine, we must have serenity. Man needs a serene architectural background to save his sanity in today’s world.” -Minoru Yamasaki to Ada Louise Huxtable
I hadn’t heard of Minoru Yamasaki until recently and now it seems like he’s everywhere. Yamasaki (1912-1986) was an architect as the United States was transitioning from modern to postmodern architecture. He is known, among other things, for his large, concrete buildings that incorporate narrow arches inspired by Gothic windows.
Yamasaki was born in Seattle and attended University of Washington, so it is no surprise that two of his popular works are located in the city: the Seattle Pacific Science Center and Rainier Tower.
The Seattle Pacific Science Center consists of several wings with a large pond and criss-crossing walkways between. Most striking are the decorative towers that grow out of the columns holding up the walkways below. The Science Center also exhibits a decorative cement colonnade (or screen; see photo above) across several of the building facades that call directly to Yamasaki’s Gothic inspirations.
The second of Yamasaki’s works in Seattle that I can’t stop looking at is Rainier Tower. The majority of the tower is rectangular with an emphasis on the vertical (though no arched windows in this example). The bottom, however, is cut away in symmetrical arcs, leaving the building seemingly balanced on an inverse-pyramidal base.
Yamasaki designed a large number of skyscrapers. Among them are New York’s World Trade Center towers (1973-2001). These will be forever remembered due to the vast tragedy that encompasses them, but even before that they were Yamasaki’s most famous works. The towers were the tallest in the world at the time of their completion. They were known also for their sky-lobby design system that freed up a large amount of floor space by designating express elevators and having certain elevators not access all floors. The World Trade Center also featured Yamasaki’s characteristic tall, arched windows at the lower lobbies (see picture below).
Skyscrapers often get a bad rap. They are considered too dull or too gaudy. There was a debate from their very beginning about which styles best suited them. Architects like Yamasaki proved that skyscrapers can have a style all their own and, if done right, can be just as visually intriguing as any other building.
Sources and Further Reading
You can read the New York Times’ obituary for Minoru Yamasaki here. His story is far more vast than I can encompass here, and I think this piece does a good job.
The photo of the World Trade Center lobby was found here.
Want to read more about the World Trade Center? I can recommend this article: An Architect Whose Legacy Didn’t Work Out As He’d Planned.
The photo of true Gothic windows, below, was found here.
All other photos are my own.
The Rainier Tower first caught my eye, and my camera lens, a month ago:
11 thoughts on “Minoru Yamasaki in Seattle”
I believe we only have one Yamasaki here in Indianapolis, and it is the Irwin Library (main library) at Butler University. It has a stunning arcade of arches on the facade & a (still functioning) fountain in the center. It’s one of my favorite quiet places in Indy!
So cool, Raina! His arcades are amazing. I would like to visit more of his pieces!
I’m not familiar with his work but I’m so intrigued. Thanks for sharing!
I actually somehow didn’t come across him in grad school but discovered him recently. I love that he’s from a time period of architecture that most people dismiss (especially skyscrapers) but he actually designed some amazing buildings and spaces! 🙂
I have to say I’m glad he passed before he saw his most famous skyskrapers devastated in the fashion that they were. Although perhaps he does know?!
I agree, I’d thought of that too. Hopefully people will remember the spaces that these were and not just the tragedy. So heart-breaking!
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Truly. Have you seen the memorial in NY? It’s very moving.
I would love to! It wasn’t officially opened the last time I was in NYC. One of these days I’ll get back to the East Coast and that will be on my list for sure.
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I haven’t seen the museum since it opened, but I did see the outside memorials where the towers were. I was there at dusk when the fountain lights came on. Very solemn and peaceful spot, as it should be.
[…] Interestingly enough, Irwin Library is Yamasaki’s only work in Indiana. Considering the close proximity of Detroit to Indiana, and the contemporary work of other world-renowned Modern architects in Columbus, it is a bit surprising Yamasaki didn’t complete more works in Indiana. He was born in Seattle and fellow blogger Susie Trexler has a great post on Yamasaki in Seattle. […]
[…] mean something to them. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll remember I wrote about Minoru Yamasaki’s architecture in Seattle (Indianapolis historic preservationist, Raina Regan, wrote about Yamasaki’s Irwin Library, […]