It bears repeating on today of all days--building sound structures requires work, planning, wisdom and inspiration. Most importantly, a climate must exist in which all of these attributes may flourish:
After years of negotiations, debate, and drawing up and redrawing up of plans, it was decided that the World Trade Center would consist of 15 million square feet of floor space distributed among seven buildings. These would include two towers that would soar over a quarter mile into the sky. The towers would top the Empire State Building by 100 feet. Some people, architects among them, wondered: Could such lofty skyscrapers be built?
'Yes' was the answer of at least one man; one who blossomed in the climate called America:
Minoru Yamasaki was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Seattle in 1912 and studied architecture at the University of Washington in 1932. He then moved to New York to complete his professional education, and established a practice in suburban Detroit, Michigan, in 1945. Yamasaki designed several major Seattle buildings including the Federal Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center, 1962), IBM Building (1964), and Rainier Square and tower (1977). He is best known as the chief architect of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. Upon completion in 1976, the WTC’s twin 110-story towers were the world’s tallest buildings. Yamasaki died of cancer in 1986, and was thus spared seeing his greatest work destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
During WWII, Yamasaki and his parents were protected from FDR's internment by his second employer, Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls.
Allegories and ironies abound.
While his Japanese kinsmen were acting against Americans, Chinese, Filipinos, etc. based on the assumption that the former were ethnically superior, Yamasaki, the American, was living his life according to the American ideal of individual excellence--even as FDR's America was falling monstrously short of that ideal. And it is pertinent that it took individuals to protect the Yamasakis from their government; for self-interested reasons to be sure, but how much does that matter in view of the results?
The Japanese and persons of Japanese descent (and other East Asians) have a well-deserved reputation for excellence in most any endeavor and it is no secret that this excellence seems to stem from elements of the Japanese culture. Like very many other ethnic groups, Japanese immigrants to the United States came to America with their cultural baggage--both good and bad--and did what successful new Americans do: they adapted. They retained the elements of their culture which are compatible with the American Ideal (individual excellence), discarded those elements which were not (ethnic tribalism/supremacy) and, for the most part, passed on the positives to their wholly American progeny.
Yamasaki's Twin Towers were a testament to that success and to the soundness of the American Ideal.
It is indeed a blessing that he did not live to see his masterpieces destroyed by those who hold ethnic and religious tribalism more sacred than individuality, but though Yamasaki and his Towers reside only in our memories now, nothing can destroy what that fine American achieved in a climate created just for men and women like him.
(Image courtesy of the Detroit News)