"Architecture must be dignified and elegant," said Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who designed the World Trade Center's original Twin Towers. And yet, as New York magazine's Justin Davidson has pointed out, the Twin Towers were never so demure, standing as a challenge to the skyline, an affront—like "the creation of some Howard Roark–like super-architect," as Davidson puts it.
The destruction of the Twin Towers, if only a minor atrocity compared to the losses endured twelve years ago today, and during more than a decade of subsequent war, still marks a significant loss for New York City and New York architecture. And for Yamasaki's legacy also: Despite the serenity that he tried to imbue in his projects, it is difficult not to link his work to tragedy. Yamasaki's other iconic project, the Pruitt–Igoe housing complex built in St. Louis in 1954, was destroyed by poverty and crime long before it was torn down in 1972—a symbol of failed urban renewal.
Yet this year has seen Yamasaki's legacy renewed. In Detroit, where the Seattle-born architect lived and worked from 1945 until his death in 1986, several of his projects have enjoyed renovation and rejuvenation in 2013. Chief among them is the campus for Wayne State University. Between 1958 and 1964, Yamasaki planned and completed a suite of buildings for the university and a series of reflecting pools to connect them. Photos of the campus from the 1950s and '60s follow.
Those pools were drained in the 1990s and the campus languished. After a $2-million renovation, however, the campus—restored to its original design—reopened in May. Yamasaki's daughter was on hand to speak about his life and work at the ribbon-cutting.
In addition, Yamasaki's work was the subject of great discussion at Michigan Modern, an effort launched this year to mark the contributions of modern architects and designers to the growth and history of the Great Lakes State. And in perhaps the greatest news for Yamasaki's legacy, Dan Gilbert's Rock Ventures bought One Woodward Avenue, the biggest Yamasaki skyscraper in Detroit.
As Curbed's Kelly Ellsworth notes, there is a great deal to do to ensure Yamasaki's legacy in Detroit, especially with One Woodward Avenue. Nevertheless, this year's commemorations suggest that Yamasaki's work will not be forgotten.