Celebrating 75 Years

Wayne State University Press

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Yamasaki in Detroit

A Search for Serenity

John Gallagher

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Detroit, Architecture, Biography

Painted Turtle

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Published: September 2015
ISBN: 9780814341193
Pages: 128 Size: 9x9 Illustrations: 59
Published: September 2015
ISBN: 9780814341209
Book Images

Although his best-known project was the World Trade Center in New York City, Japanese American architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912–1986) worked to create moments of surprise, serenity, and delight in distinctive buildings around the world. In his adopted home of Detroit, where he lived and worked for the last half of his life, Yamasaki produced many important designs that range from public buildings to offices and private residences. In Yamasaki in Detroit: A Search for Serenity, author John Gallagher presents both a biography of Yamasaki—or Yama as he was known—and an examination of his working practices, with an emphasis on the architect’s search for a style that would express his artistic goals.

Gallagher explores Yamasaki’s drive to craft tranquil spaces amid bustling cities while other modernists favored "glass box" designs. He connects Yamasaki’s design philosophy to tumultuous personal experiences, including the architect’s efforts to overcome poverty, racial discrimination, and his own inner demons. Yamasaki in Detroit surveys select projects spanning from the late 1940s to the end of Yamasaki's life, revealing the unique gardens, pools, plazas, skylight atriums, and other oases of respite in these buildings. Gallagher includes prominent works like the Michigan Consolidated Gas Building in downtown Detroit, Temple Beth-El in Bloomfield Township, and landmark buildings on the Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies campuses, as well as smaller medical clinics, office buildings, and private homes (including Yamasaki’s own residence).

Gallagher consults Yamasaki’s own autobiographical writings, architects who worked with Yamasaki in his firm, and photography from several historic archives to give a full picture of the architect’s work and motivations. Both knowledgeable fans of modernist architecture and general readers will enjoy Yamasaki in Detroit.
Wayne State University Press gratefully acknowledges the organizations that generously supported the publication of this book: Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Yamasaki, Inc. and The Office of the Vice President of Research (OVPR) of Wayne State University.

Published by: Painted Turtle

John Gallagher is a veteran journalist and author whose book Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City was named by the Huffington Post as among the best social and political books of 2010. His most recent book is Revolution Detroit: Strategies for Urban Reinvention. John was born in New York City and joined the Detroit Free Press in 1987 to cover urban and economic redevelopment efforts in Detroit and Michigan, a post he still holds. His other books include Great Architecture of Michigan and, as co-author, AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. John and his wife, Sheu-Jane, live along Detroit’s east riverfront.

John Gallagher captures, in images and text, the very essence of Minoru Yamasaki—a genius, a troubled soul, a great designer, but an architect often misunderstood during his all too short life.

– Robin Boyle, professor and chair of urban planning, Wayne State University

Yamasaki changed not only Detroit's skyline, but the world's. An architectural master deserves a fitting tribute such as this. Few writers can combine a knowledge and appreciation for architecture as well as John Gallagher.

– Dan Austin, author of Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit and Lost Detroit

With his strong background as architecture and development writer for the Detroit Free Press, Gallagher captures the essence of Yamasaki’s illustrious career as a Detroit-based architect who designed notable buildings around the world.

– Brian Conway, State of Michigan Historic Preservation Officer

John Gallagher's insights provide the reader with a rich understanding of Yamasaki's creativity, all-consuming work style, and compassion for people that resulted in buildings of delight and serenity. The recent designation of the McGregor Memorial Conference Center as a National Historic Landmark is a fitting tribute to an architect who brought us beauty and balanced simplicity.

– Freda P. Giblin, director of inter-institutional initiatives, Office of the Vice President for Research at Wayne State University

A great read about a great architectural legacy.

– Stephen Vogel, professor of architecture at University of Detroit Mercy

John Gallagher profiles Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki in his
book Yamasaki in Detroit: A Search for Serenity.
Perhaps 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-thirties 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 Pearl Harbor and how
these 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
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 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 is 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."
The book is available through the Wayne State University Press
(http://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/yamasaki-detroit) for $39.99.

– Amanda Proscia, Great Lakes Echo

  • 2015 Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards - Result: Finalist in the Architecture category
  • 2016 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards - Result: Silver Medal in the Architecture Category
  • 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Award - Result: Finalist in the Regional Non-Fiction category

Photos from the Book Launch on October 6, 2015:

Yamasaki in Detroit Book Launch