The name Yamasaki is back on Detroit design scene


One of the most revered names in Detroit architecture – Yamasaki – returns to the city.

Yamasaki Inc., the successor to that founded by the great mid-century modernist Minoru Yamasaki, opens an office in the Fisher Building this month.

Yamasaki, born in Seattle in 1912, lived and worked in Detroit from 1945 until his death in 1986. His company survived for many years, but was closed in 2009 due to financial problems.

Minoru Yamasaki, architect.  Picture from May 1985

Robert Szantner, who worked for Yamasaki from 1984 and stayed with the company until it closed, later bought the intellectual property, including the name, from the administration. He ran it in Birmingham for a few years, but decided to move to Detroit, where Yamasaki had founded his own company around 1950.

“I think we’re really interested in that dynamic that Detroit has now,” said Szantner. He noted that for many years the company had been better known for their work elsewhere than here at home. “We’re excited about the city’s resurgence and we want to be able to offer the services for which we are known in other markets.”

Minoru Yamasaki is best known as the designer of the World Trade Center twin towers in Lower Manhattan, which were destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. However, he contributed several important buildings to the greater Detroit area.

His work here includes the downtown One Woodward office tower, which is often cited as the precursor to the World Trade Center towers. the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University in the Beth El Temple in Bloomfield Hills; and dozens more.

Indeed, if it seems unusual to revive or keep a previous name for a current company, it is happening all the time in architecture, as well as legal, engineering and other fields. SmithGroupJJR, Detroit’s oldest and largest architectural firm, is named after Sheldon Smith, who was born in 1818 and started his business in the growing city of Detroit.

The new company Yamasaki Inc. will initially employ about a dozen people, some of whom previously worked at the original Yamasaki company before it closed.

When the company closed in 2009, employees at the Lansing State Archives were able to salvage much of the company’s files, including construction drawings that are now held in the Lansing archives.

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The work of Minoru Yamasaki

Yamasaki’s work at the World Trade Center in New York made him so famous that he spent the later half of his career building skyscrapers and other projects around the world.

In the 1950s and 1960s, he was part of the Michigan mid-century modernist community that included Eero Saarinen, the Herman Miller Co. of Furniture Designers, and many more. Their work combined the clean lines and efficiency of modern design with the warmth and artistic creativity of the arts and crafts movement.

Yamasaki’s personal mantra was “serenity, surprise, and joy,” something he tried to create in each of his buildings.

“The things on which Yama based its design philosophies really shaped me and the other people who had the opportunity to work with the company,” said Szantner. “We want to continue some of this.”

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.


Dusty Kennedy