1st Edition

Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture

By Paul Kidder Copyright 2021
    272 Pages 142 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    272 Pages 142 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    272 Pages 142 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    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.

    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




    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