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Essay: Minoru Yamasaki

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  • Published: 29 September 2015*
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  • Words: 1,333 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)

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Minoru Yamasaki, who was born on December 12, 1912 and died in February of 1986 from stomach cancer. Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington and studied architecture at the University of Washington as well as the New York University. After he graduated from 1943 to 1945, Yamasaki was an instructor in architectural design at the Columbia University before moving to Detroit in 1945 where he became the head of design in 1945 for the firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls until 1949 when he began his own firm called Leinweber, Yamasaki, and Hellmuth and maintained two offices in Detroit and St. Louis (Savage).
Yamasaki designed many buildings during his time and during his time with the firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, one of his projects was to design the addition for the Federal Reserve Bank Building which done in a Neoclassic style design. In 1951, after he partnered with Leinweber and Hellmuth, Yamasaki was hired to design the Lambert St. Louis Municipal Air Terminal in 1951(Savage). This design won Yamasaki the AIA First Honor Award and was the beginning of more commissions for this firm. It was soon after the Lambert St Louis Municipal Air Terminal was designed that Yamasaki’s firm was hired to design the U.S. Consulate in Kobe, Japan in which Yamasaki began to study the architecture of not only Japan, but around the world! It was in 1957 when Yamasaki decided to begin his own firm in which he called Yamasaki and Associates and designed the Yamasaki Building for the Detroit Society for Arts and Crafts which is known today as the College for Creative Studies which was constructed from 1957 to 1958 (Savage). Other buildings designed by Yamasaki from 1958 to 1963 include the American Concrete Institute Building of 1958 and today offers 20 certification programs designed to qualify people personnel employed in the concrete construction industry. Yamasaki also designed the Reynolds Metals Building in 1959 as well as the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building (1960-63) (Savage).
Through Yamasaki’s worldly travels and study of architecture during these travels, he wanted to design work which invoked a feeling of serenity and delight which was evident in his design of the four buildings at Wayne State University during the 20th Century. Yamasaki’s buildings on the campus were decorative and unique from the surrounding buildings. Yamasaki’s creative mind earned him commissions all over the world including the Dhahran Air Terminal located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1959. Yamasaki’s first skyscraper was the Michigan Consolidated Gas Co and was his only skyscraper design prior to designing the World Trade Center. Yamasaki had a career that lasted over three decades and over 250 buildings nationally and internationally. His firm continued to flourish after his death from 1986 to 2010 when the firm shut its doors and walked away from the building (Savage).
It was during the 1960s when Yamasaki was in the peak of his career and was commissioned to design the World Trade Center and earned a spot on the cover of Time Magazine.
Yamasaki’s Twin Towers
Terrorists tried to take down the powerful structure known as the Twin Towers multiple times however, the travesty of September 11, 2001 was a moment that will forever scar the heart of America and indefinitely alter the majestic skyline of New York City. The World Trade Center (also affectionately known as the Twin Towers) was a vision of power and elegance that graced the city’s skyline standing 1,368 and 1,362 feet tall. Construction on the Twin Towers began August 5, 1966 and the doors were opened in 1970 for the North Tower and 1971 for the South Tower with a ribbon cutting in 1973 (Skinner).
Built on 16 acres, Yamasaki was commissioned to design the World Trade Center by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Towers stood taller than the ever graceful Empire State Building by over 100 feet and was built with over 10 million square feet of office space and was home to not only the Port Authority, but also the New York Stock Exchange, Verizon Communication, Dow Jones and Company, and Fiduciary Trust Company and many more, the Twin Towers were more than a majestic skyline and visual reference point for Manhattan, they were the nerve center for the world economy (Skinner).
The architectural style of the World Trade Center was Modern International Style and contained 110 floors. The cage of the Twin Towers was made with steel columns placed only 2 feet apart and locked at every floor and part of the floors and walls were prefabricated. This allowed the structure to resist the force of 150 mile per hour winds. Each column in the Twin Towers was sprayed with fire resistant material which was lightweight and allowed the structure to sway with the wind. The prefabricated sections allowed the building to absorbed an seismic strains so that the core structure of the Towers would not be affected (Skinner). The foundation for the Twin Towers was 69 feet of bedrock for each tower and over 200,000 tons of steel were used to construct these magnificent beasts. Between the Twins, there were over 43,000 windows and 215,000 square feet of glass which added to the elegance and beauty of the twins (Skinner). Before Yamasaki decided on the Twin Towers for his final design, he produced over one hundred models. The the structure was designed well and the impact of a plane had been taken into consideration during construction of the Twin Towers, as the Empire State Building had a few incidents over the years with fog obstructing the view of pilots. Unfortunately, the Twin Towers were unable to survive the impact that caused 20,000 gallons of jet fuel to spill and combust on September 11, 2001.
Yamasaki’s Synagogue
Synagogue construction in the U.S. seemed to sore after the end of World War II and more than 500 synagogues were built (Greenberg). Another famous structure designed by Minoru Yamasaki is the Temple Beth El which is located in the Bloomfield Township, Michigan. This structure was built in 1973 and is the home to the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. The structure is 112,500 square feet and Yamasaki designed this structure to resemble the shape of the old synagogues that were tents and used by the ancient Israelites. The architectural style is a neoclassical style and is listed in the State Register of Historic sites due to its architecture and the history of the Jewish congregation.
The synagogue was built with two columns that are held together by beams at the top of the structure and has two hundred panels that are created with steel cables and concrete walls. Within the structure there is a sanctuary, a school, library, chapel, as well as a social hall. In between the ridge beams on the roof is a transparent skylight which allows the natural light enter into the building. The roof itself is a copper roof which stands over seventy feet tall, the gentle curves of the roof are supported by steel cables that are suspended between the ridge and the ring beams (Temple Beth El).
The history of the synagogue itself is fairly interesting as the original building that was built in 1922 had been outgrown and it was in the 1950s when the congregation began preparing to relocate. In 1952, the board of administrators for Temple Beth El purchased nineteen and a half acres of land that was located on the Northwestern Highway in Bloomfield, MI. The Rabbi then went to New York in search of an architect and conducted interviews with several architectural designers. Minoru Yamasaki and Eero Saarinen were highly recommended by the editor of Architectural Forum magazine. It would be another 10 years before the congregation moved forward with the design and construction of the temple so by 1966, the congregation then purchased another twenty eight and a half acres and within two years hired Minoru Yamasaki and associates to design the building. This project was very important to Yamasaki as he wanted to design a building that was not only inspiring but beautiful (Temple Beth El). It was Yamasaki’s recent work throughout Detroit that landed him the commission to design the Temple Beth El in Bloomfield, MI.

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