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Tour of the Architecture of Minoru Yamasaki at Wayne State University

Minoru Yamasaki Detroit

All About Architect Minoru Yamasaki

The Seattle born and educated Yamasaki moved to Detroit in 1945. By 1949, the young architect had started his own architectural practice in the city. Among other notable buildings, he designed the United States Science Pavilion at the 1962 World Fair in Seattle, WA and the Reynolds Metals Company Headquarters in Southfield, MI. Probably his most famous design, however, was for the ill-fated twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Yamasaki and WSU

Minoru Yamasaki's architecture can be found throughout the Detroit area. Some of his most interesting structures, however, are on the campus of WSU. The architect designed four buildings for Wayne State University, from 1958-1964. These are:

McGregor Memorial Conference Center & Sculpture Garden, 1958. 495 Ferry Ave.

College of Education building, 1960. 5425 Gullen Mall.

Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium, 1964. 5203 Cass Ave.

Prentis Building, 1964. 5201 Cass Ave.

Map of Yamasaki Buildings on the WSU Campus:

*DeRoy Auditorium is the dark green rectangle at bottom right.

Minoru Yamasaki Wayne State University

The four buildings Yamasaki designed for Wayne State University's campus all seem to stem from a single shape or motif. The architect then skillfully repeats the motif, scales it up, scales it down and tessellates it into a kaleidoscopic design which works equally well from far away or up close.

Below, see the repeated motif up close (Clockwise from top left: McGregor, DeRoy, Prentis, Education Building).

Minoru Yamasaki Wayne State University

The WSU McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1958)

The real star on campus is the McGregor Memorial Conference Center. The Neo Formalist design for the center uses a diamond motif that informs the entire structure. You see it along the sides of the building, in the shape of the windows, in the window overhangs and on the entry doors.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

Yamasaki's reverence for natural light is omnipresent. The skylight runs the length of the building and down the side walls of each opposing end. This allows someone standing outside to look through into the building and see the amount of natural light inside. Once again, the diamond motif makes an appearance: In the skylight above, in the projecting balconies inside and on the metal grilles on the double entry doors.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

Inside, light floods in and bounces off white marble floors and pillars while the Mies van der Rohe- designed 'Barcelona' furniture stands out in contrast. These furniture designs seem to have been a favorite of Yamasaki's, appearing in a number of other commissions.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center

Outside, the building has a wonderful counterpoint in the sunken and horizontal sculpture garden, recently restored and open to the public.

Minoru Yamasaki sculpture garden

Minoru Yamasaki sculpture garden

Minoru Yamasaki sculpture garden

The McGregor was such an architectural success that it was used heavily in building industry advertising such as in Architectural Forum, September, 1959 below:

The WSU College of Education Building (1964)

A complex facade and forest-like rows of pillars around the perimeter give this building a striking appearance. Again a motif is repeated to dramatic effect. Scroll through the slideshow to see more photos of the WSU College of Education Building.

The WSU Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium (1964)

Yamasaki creates a fairytale setting with a windowless walled perimeter enclosed by a moat with stepped sides, suitable for outdoor activities. The subtly Arabian motif and the restricting bridge entries add to the mystery of the building. Scroll through the slideshow to see more photos.

The WSU Prentis Building (1964)

The WSU Prentis Building was built in conjunction with the DeRoy Auditorium and the two are joined together by a tunnel. The Prentis Building beautifully maintains the visual link to the other Yamasaki buildings on campus. With its repeated perimeter motifs and tree-like pillars, it borrows ideas from its precursors. Scroll through the slideshow to see more photos.

Time mahazin cover Minoru Yamasaki

Architect Minoru Yamasaki was a huge influence on mid-century architecture. He even made it to the cover of Time Magazine on January 18th, 1963!

Some of his most interesting works are found in Detroit, and Wayne State University is the ideal place to explore several structures in one place. The next time you're in Detroit, it is certainly worth a visit!​

Check out more in-depth analyses of Yamasaki's architecture on the excellent CLAASSHAUS blog here, here and here.

All photos taken by Tim Hills of Trystcraft 3/22/2018. Copyright 2018. Please contact us if you would like to use these images.

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