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caption: Minoru Yamasaki with WTC twin towers model 
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Minoru Yamasaki with WTC twin towers model
Credit: Courtesy of the Balthazar Korab Archive at the Library of Congress

A search for meaning in Minoru Yamasaki's life and architecture

The architect Minoru Yamasaki is best known for his design for the twin towers of The World Trade Center, but his legacy is global. Here in Seattle, we encounter his designs in the Pacific Science Center, the IBM Building, and Rainier Tower.

Yamasaki was born and raised in Seattle. His first experiences with anti-Asian American discrimination happened here. His rise above was pointed to as a rags to riches story, but in some respects he was always othered. His name is not always listed or known in the pantheon of great American architects.

“The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace . . . a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.” -Minoru Yamasaki, opening ceremonies and dedication April 4, 1973

Yamasaki’s life and work is the subject of Seattle University philosophy professor Paul Kidder’s new book Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture. In this talk, Kidder shares insights into how Yamasaki came to his art, one not universally appreciated, and the discrimination he faced.

“I know from personal experience how prejudice and bigotry can affect one’s total thought process … the prejudice I experienced in Seattle hurt me deeply …” -From Yamasaki’s autobiography A Life in Architecture

The fragility of structures as mammoth and iconic as the twin towers is tragically clear. Twenty years after their destruction, this thoughtful reflection into the life of the man who envisioned them is illuminating. It provides historic context for how a utilitarian art form succeeds, fails, and defines our humanity.

“A word that I heard over and over again whenever there would be an incident or a slight was shikataganai, which means ‘it can’t be helped.’” -Minoru Yamasaki in a Time magazine interview

The Elliott Bay Book Company and the Seattle University College of Arts and Sciences presented this conversation on Sept. 20. It was moderated by Elliott Bay’s Karen Maeda Allman.

If you have any feedback on this episode, you can email me at jobrien@kuow.org

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