As David Gallagher states in his AIADetroit guidebook to the city’s architecture, this may be among the finest buildings in Detroit. There are the Michigan Consolidated Gas Building at Woodward and Jefferson, the new addition to the Federal Research Bank on Fort Street, the tinker-toy-like College for Creative Studies Building in the Cultural Center—and this one. This building is the easiest to appreciate. It is a two-story, very light-looking structure with an extremely interesting exterior. The interior is equally attractive with conference rooms on either side of a large hall with a skylight. David Gallagher observes that it seems like a “mother gothic cathedral in miniature.”
An unusual array of extremely skilled and innovative architects used the Detroit area as their base in the Twentieth Century, including Albert Kahn whose contributions hastened efficient industrial production, Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero Saarinen, Wirt Rowland who designed the Guardian Building and C. Howard Crane, the imaginative designer of hundreds of movie palaces across the nation. Minoru Yamasaki is also a member of the group of productive and creative architects. The son of Japanese immigrants, he was born in Seattle in 1912. He studied at the University of Washington and graduated with a degree in architect in the early 1930s. He moved to the East Coast and enrolled for advanced architectural training at New York University and then began his career there. He—and his family who were then living in New York—avoided incarceration during World War II since only the Japanese living in the Pacific Rim states were put into prison-like camps. Interestingly, the federal government did not incarcerate the large and prosperous Japanese population of Hawaii during that war.
In 1945, Minoru Yamasaki accepted an appointment as chief of design for the productive Detroit firm of Smith, Hinchman and Gyllis. Sometime prior to 1951 he established his own firm in Detroit and quickly became a nationally- and internationally-known architect. Quite likely, he will forever be best remember as the architect who designed the twin towers of the World Trade Center that opened in New York. I have pleasant memories of wandering through those towers, eating at the elegant restaurant that he designed at the upper level and running races through the plazas that he placed around his skyscraper. His first tall building was the Michigan Consolidated Gas Building completed in the early 1960s. When you look at that building from Hart Plaza on a sunny warm day, you clearly see a resemblance to those Twin Towers in New York. The Port Authority of New York, in the 1960s, held something of a competition to select an architect for was what originally scheduled to be a $280 million office building project. Minoru Yamasaki’s design was selected while those of I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson and Walter Gropius were turned down.
Miroru Yamasaki designed the McGregor Conference Center in coordination with an attractive reflecting pond. This area is now known at the McGregor Sculpture Court. It includes Giacomo Manzo’s The Nymph and Faun (1968), Michael Todd’s Ikebana II (1976) and Georg Kolbe’s Assunta (1976).