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Yamasaki Archives Saved from Destruction

April 30, 2010

By John Gallagher

A last-minute rescue effort has saved from destruction the company archives of famed mid-century modernist Minoru Yamasaki. The records, which include work related to the Yamasaki-designed World Trade Center towers in New York and numerous other projects, are now preserved in the State of Michigan Archives in the state capital in Lansing.

World Trade Center rendering
Photo courtesy State of Michigan Archives

World Trade Center rendering

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Born in Seattle, Yamasaki (1912-1986) moved to Detroit in 1945 to work for the firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls before starting his own firm in Troy, Michigan. There he designed the Century Plaza in Los Angeles, the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building in Detroit, the Lambert-Saint Louis Air Terminal in Missouri, the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University, and the U.S. Consulate building in Kobe, Japan, among many other important commissions. After his death, the firm continued to operate until the end of 2009, when it closed amid a sea of debts and legal disputes.

The government of suburban Oakland County, north of Detroit, took control of the firm¹s records after the company closed to safeguard plans for sensitive buildings such as banks. Fearing those records might fall into the wrong hands, the county ordered the records shredded.

That order alarmed many in the preservation world, including Pauline Saliga, executive director of the Society of Architectural Historians in Chicago, who called Michigan¹s State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway, who in turn alerted State Archivist Mark Harvey that the papers were to be destroyed the following morning. The Michigan History Foundation supplied a moving van and two movers, and Harvey and other preservationists arrived early and spent the day assessing and packing the available materials.

The records include presentation drawings, photographs of models and projects, handwritten notes, slides, and much else, as well as Minoru Yamasaki’s personal library of several hundred books.

The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office is in the early stages of organizing a Michigan Modern project to document Michigan’s Modern architecture from 1940 to 1970. Yamasaki was a leader in that movement. “For us to be able to get these materials now, at the beginning of this project, and to be able to preserve materials related to one of the world’s greatest architects and his architectural legacy is just amazing,” Conway said.

Tawny Ryan Nelb of Nelb Consulting, Inc., a Michigan-based archivist consulting firm, will conduct a needs assessment for the collection. The Archives of Michigan will seek grant money and donations for the cataloging and conservation of the collection.

“The Archives of Michigan is honored to be the repository of the international legacy of Minoru Yamasaki,” Harvey said.

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