Architect Minoru Yamasaki Dies at 73 : Designs Include Century Plaza Towers, N.Y. World Trade Center

Times Staff Writer

Architect Minoru Yamasaki, whose most spectacular designs include the Century Plaza Towers in Century City and the World Trade Center in New York, has died of cancer. He was 73.

Yamasaki, who lived and worked in suburban Detroit, died Thursday in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where he had been admitted for cancer treatment early last week.

Yamasaki leaves his mark on both coasts in the form of the Century Plaza and World Trade Center towers--the triangular West Coast versions conspicuously looming 44 stories above the Los Angeles Basin and their East Coast counterparts soaring 110 stories into the Manhattan sky. Yamasaki also designed the Century Plaza Hotel, whose curving design contrasts sharply with the towers nearby.

Numerous Honors


He received numerous professional and civic honors in his career but also weathered some severe criticism. One critic called the World Trade Center towers, probably the architect’s most significant and important commission, “about as humanistic, democratic, or serene as a 1964 Lincoln Continental.”

“They are physical objects that are humanistic, democratic and serene for those few who can afford them, politically, economically, ecologically,” wrote Joseph B. Juhasz, professor of environmental design at the University of Colorado.

Yamasaki wrote in the late 1970s that he had progressed in his career from buildings he tended to “over-design and over-decorate” to structures that incorporated “the least possible amounts of materials to attain the desired strength and stability without compromising either aesthetics or function.” The Century Plaza and World Trade Center projects were completed in 1975 and 1974, respectively.

Yamasaki suffered the most dramatic setback in his 50-year career in 1972 when an award-winning public housing project he designed in St. Louis was blown up by city officials because it had become a high-rise slum. To some planners, this episode became a symbol of failed urban design.


Some studies of the failed Pruitt-Igoe project later showed that its problems had not been caused by its design--which incorporated the then-latest theories of making high-rises more attractive to families through such things as wide, open hallways and express elevators--but by the landlord, the St. Louis Housing Authority. The authority apparently had grouped too many troubled, migrant families in several buildings while doing little to provide adequate social services for them.

Yamasaki’s designs also appear on college campuses and airports and in foreign countries. He designed the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, the McGregor Memorial Community Conference Center at Wayne State University in Detroit, the civil air terminal in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. consulate-general headquarters in Kobe, Japan.

Son of Immigrants

The son of Japanese immigrants, Yamasaki was born on Dec. 1, 1912, in Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1934 with a degree in architecture and worked as a draftsman for several New York firms. In 1945 he moved to Detroit and became chief designer for Smith, Hinchman & Grylls. Four years later, he opened his own office in Troy.


Yamasaki is survived by his wife, Teruko; two sons, Kim and Taro; a daughter, Carol Yamasaki Chakrin; a brother and eight grandchildren. His son, Kim, is a vice president of Yamasaki’s architectural firm.

A private funeral will be held Monday.