Born on December 1, 1912 in Seattle, Washington, Minoru Yamasaki is a Nisei. Born to John Tsunejiro Yamasaki, a purchasing agent and Hana Yamasaki, a pianist. Born in poverty, this apparent setback turned out to be just the opposite. Yamasaki worked hard and put himself through college, graduating from the University of Washington, determined to do something better with his life.
Minoru chose his profession when his uncle, Koken Ito, a Japanese architect, showed him plans for the United States Embassy in Tokyo while in college. Impressed by his uncle, he decided to become an architect.
Following his graduation from the University of Washington, Minoru went to New York University earning a master's degree. There he also was able to obtain a job at an architectural firm where he was know for his self-confidence. Not long after he went to Detroit and was hired as chief of design for Smith Hinchman and Grylls. In a relatively short time the 33-year-old Minoru had credentials from 2 of New York City's most famous firms, Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, designers of the Empire State Building, and Harrison, Fouilhoux and Abramovitz, designers of Rockefeller Center.
In 1949 Minoru formed his own firm with 2 collegues, George Hellmuth and Joseph Leinweber with offices in Detroit and St. Louis. However, his ambitions almost lead to his untimely death in 1954 when the stress from accepting too many projects gave him a near-fatal attack of ulcers. During his recovery, Minoru accepted an offer to travel to Japan from the United States State Department. There he was to review the location of the new U.S. embassy he was designing the Kobe area. He gained much more than that however, studying the Japanese tokonoma.
When he returned home, Minoru was so impressed with the idea of a tokonoma that he designed for his own living room. It also lead him to try to integrate the idea of beauty with architecture into his works. His designs that grew from these ideas eventually earned him the American Institute of Architects 1st Honor Award in 1959. During the past years he had designed a Lambert-St.Louis air terminal, completed in 1956. It set a new standard for airport design.
However, his own success did not extend to the firm. The 2 offices split with St. Louis becoming Hellmuth Obata Kassabum and in 1959, Minoru parted ways with Leinweber, forming his own firm. Yamasaki & Associates.
After the split, Yamasaki went on a tour of Europe and the Orient. Studying the Gothic and Indian architecture. This would lead to Yamasaki's second architectural period where he focused more on a romantic style of architecture instead of his then modern minimalism ideals.
During this time Minoru designed his first high-rise, the Michigan Consolidate Gas Company Building in Detroit. He designed the Arabic style Dhahran Air Terminal in Saudi Arabia which proved that he would not let his own heritage come between those of others.
However, in the 1970s he was commissioned for his most famous building. The New York and New Jersey Port Authority's World Trade Center. By now, his firm was well established with many rich Japanese and Arabs hiring him. However, his personal life was rather in a mess. In 1941 he married Teruko Hirashiki and then divorced her in 1961 marrying twice before their 1969 remarriage.
Minoru Yamasaki died of cancer on February 7, 1986, he was 73.