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Few figures in American arts have stories richer in irony than does architect Minoru Yamasaki. While his twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center are internationally iconic, few who know the icon recognize its architect’s name or know much about his work. One is tempted to call him America’s most famous forgotten architect. He was classed in the top tier of his profession in the 1950s and 60s, as he carried modernism in novel directions, yet today he is best known not for buildings that stand, but for two projects that were destroyed under tragic circumstances: the twin towers and the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis.
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This book seeks a deeper understanding of the architectural intentions that guided Yamasaki’s career, including in the design of the World Trade Center, which Yamasaki meant to be a symbol of peace, but which came to mean many things for many people, including, for some, the opposite of peace. It explores how Yamasaki wrestled with questions of symbolism in architecture, the cultural role of architecture, and the relation of modernism to architecture’s past—including in his design of well-known Seattle buildings. Stories of loss and vulnerability in Yamasaki’s legacy illustrate the fragility of all architecture in the face of natural and historical forces, yet in Yamasaki’s view, fragility is also a positive quality in architecture: the source of its refinement, beauty, and humanity. We learn something essential about architecture when we explore the tension in his work of strength and fragility. With the arrival of the twenty-year mark since the attacks of September 11, 2001, now is an appropriate time to rediscover meanings in Yamasaki’s portfolio of more than two hundred buildings.
Paul Kidder, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Seattle University, where he has taught courses on Existentialism, philosophical hermeneutics, philosophy of art and architecture, and ethics in urban affairs. He is the author of Gadamer for Architects (2012), published by Routledge.