By AMANDA PROSCIA
Capital News Service
LANSING — John Gallagher profiles Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki in his new book Yamasaki in Detroit: A Search for Serenity.
Best known for his design of the World Trade Center in New York, a number of Yamasaki’s designs adorn Detroit’s urban landscape, including the One Woodward Avenue building (formerly the Michigan Consolidated Gas building).
The city was Yamasaki’s adopted home. He moved from New York to a Detroit suburb in his mid-30s and remained in the area until his death in 1986.
“The great irony is Yamasaki is known as the architect of arguably the most gargantuan project in the U.S., but mostly all of his other projects were very modest,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher, an architecture reporter for the Detroit Free Press, covered Wayne State University’s restoration of the reflection pool at Yamasaki’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center. When editors at Wayne State University Press asked him to write a book about Yamasaki, “I didn’t need much urging,” he said.
Gallagher chronicled Yamasaki’s humble beginnings as the child of two Japanese immigrants, his exploitive summer job at an Alaskan salmon cannery, the discrimination he and his family faced in the years following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and how those factors contributed to Yamasaki’s drive to be successful.
“I thought I knew a lot about Yamasaki – until I started researching for this book,” Gallagher said.
He interviewed Yamasaki’s colleagues and studied the architect’s autobiography.
“He left behind a very rich written background of what he believed and how he tried to achieve what he achieved,” Gallagher said.
Much of the book, published by Wayne State University Press ($39.99), centers on Yamasaki’s intense ambition and his quest for his own style.
“It was a very deliberate artistic journey he took in really trying to achieve an artistic vision,” Gallagher said.
His style evolved into practical, innovative design accompanied by tranquil spaces. Yamasaki sought to humanize architecture, incorporating large plazas, pools and gardens into his designs for a serene escape within the site.
The College of Creative Studies building in Detroit is exemplary of his signature style. It’s an unassuming two-story structure with a center skylight, surrounded by lush landscaping and enclosed in a brick screening wall.
Gallagher sees the book as a way to chronicle the architect’s contribution to design, he said.
“I think the book is able to revive a figure who was going to dissolve into history – if it helps people understand what Yamasaki added to the field of architecture, I’ll be happy.”
Amanda Proscia writes for Great Lakes Echo
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS EDITORS
Wayne State University Press: http://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/yamasaki-detroit