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A Once Eminent Firm Meets a Bitter End

January 28, 2010

By John Gallagher

The legacy firm of famed midcentury Modernist Minoru Yamasaki has closed its doors amid a sea of recriminations and debts.

Yamasaki Associates, based in Troy, Michigan, eight miles north of Detroit, was shuttered on December 31. It laid off its remaining full and part-time staff—about 10 employees—and left behind a welter of lawsuits and unpaid claims. The owner, businessman Ted Ayoub, a non-architect who had bought the firm in 2007, is reportedly traveling in the Middle East and has not been available for comment.

World Trade Center
Photo courtesy Wikipedia
The late Minoru Yamasaki founded his firm in the 1950s and soon became one of the world's most sought-after architects. He designed the World Trade Center towers in New York.
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Among the companies suing the firm is Syska Hennessy Group Inc. of New York, which filed suit in March 2008 seeking $1.9 million for subcontracted work ordered by Yamasaki for the Landmark Convention Center in Doha, Qatar. Yamasaki was disputing the claim at the time it shut down.

Additionally, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency filed suit last fall against the Yamasaki firm for not paying unemployment insurance taxes.

Michael Vaters, who headed the firm’s mechanical and electrical engineering department from early 2008 until April 2009, said he came to Yamasaki out of respect for the firm’s legacy. “I was working in Florida and I got the chance to work at Yamasaki and I jumped at it,” he said. But the company’s financial problems made the job a nightmare. “The whole time I was at Yamasaki, people were calling me all the time for payment. It was just a disaster,” he said.

Since leaving the firm last year, Vaters is one of dozen or so employees who have filed complaints with the Michigan Wage & Hour Division. The complaints allege that they have not been paid salary and expenses due to them.

It remained unclear whether Ayoub would try to re-establish the firm in another location, perhaps in the Middle East.

Born in Seattle, the late Minoru Yamasaki founded his firm in Detroit in the 1950s, and he soon became one of the world's most sought-after designers. He designed the World Trade Center towers in New York, which welcomed its first tenants in 1970, as well as many prominent buildings in the Middle East, including the Dhahran International Airport, completed in 1961 in Saudi Arabia. His output covered a vast range of building types, from a temple in Japan to an office skyscraper in Detroit. Yamasaki died in 1986, and for almost a quarter-century, his former partners carried on.

"It's sad that the Yama name ends up like this," said Anthony Gholz Jr., vice president of DiClemente Siegel Design in Southfield, which was owed money by Yamasakifor subcontracted worked.“It's just not the way a firm should end."

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