Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture  book cover
1st Edition

Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture

ISBN 9780367629526
Published August 10, 2021 by Routledge
272 Pages 142 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Few figures in the 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 portfolio of more than 200 buildings. 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. This book undertakes a reinterpretation of Yamasaki’s significance that combines architectural history with the study of his intersection with defining moments of American history and culture. The story of the loss and vulnerability of Yamasaki’s legacy illustrates 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 this tension of strength and fragility.

In the course of interpreting Yamasaki’s architecture through the wide lens of the book we see the mid-century role of Detroit as an industrial power and architectural mecca; we follow a debate over public housing that entailed the creation and eventual destruction of many thousands of units; we examine competing attempts to embody democratic ideals in architecture and to represent those ideals in foreign lands; we ponder the consequences of anti-Japanese prejudice and the masculism of the architectural profession; we see Yamasaki’s style criticized for its arid minimalism yet equally for its delicacy and charm; we observe Yamasaki making a great name for himself in the Arab world but his twin towers ultimately destroyed by Islamic militants. As this curious tale of ironies unfolds, it invites reflection on the core of modern architecture’s search for meaning and on the creative possibilities its legacy continues to offer.

Beautifully illustrated with over 100 color illustrations of Yamasaki’s buildings, this book will be of interest to students, academics and professionals in a range of disciplines, including architectural history, architectural theory, architectural preservation, and urban design and planning.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements

1. Rethinking Yamasaki

Yamasaki Known and Unknown

The Fate of a Style

The Fragility of Architecture

Course of the Study

2. The Fragility of Dreams

Inspiration and Tribulation

The Making of a Modernist

Founding a Practice

Success and Its Costs

The Long Shot

The Persistence of Culture

3. The Fragility of the City

Design on Trial

High-Risers and Low-Risers

Looking Beyond Design

A Hard Legacy

4. The Most Fragile of Arts

The Flower and the Deer

The Experiential Dimension

The Devil in the Details

The Architecture of Humanism

5. The Presence of the Past

Japanese Heritage

Islamic Legacies

Venetian Synthesis

Classical Transformations

"The New Formalism"

6. The Moral Imperative

Ethics and Ethos

Ethics in Practice

The Ethos of Modern Architecture

Expressing Structure

Strength as Symbol

The Question Reconsidered

7. Populism and Democratic Culture

Symbolizing the State

Imagining the Academy

Serving the Market

Populism and Manufactured Culture

Serious Play

8. Greatness and Vulnerability

Saint Louis Sequel

The Calamity Wager

Scale and Concentration

City in the Sky

The Scale of Tragedy

Greatness and Bigness

9. The Ambiguity of Symbols

The Nature of Symbol

The Sacred and the Mundane

The World Trade Center as Symbol

Rebuilding and Not Rebuilding

10. Postmodern Postludes

The Day Modern Architecture Died

Postmodern Theory

Ironic Historicism

Postmodern Violence and Anti-Violence

11. The Question of Preservation

Historical Grounds for Preservation

Grounds in Artistic Merit

The Presence of Yamasaki

Photo Credits



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Paul Kidder, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Seattle University, where he has taught courses on the history of philosophy, 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.


"Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture by Paul Kidder is an excellent, thoughtful survey of the difficulties of placing Yamasaki in the pantheon of modern and postmodern architects." – Knute Berger, Crosscut.com

Excerpt from https://crosscut.com/culture/2021/09/remembering-seattle-architect-who-built-world-trade-center