A to Z of Expo Architects: Minoru Yamasaki

A to Z of Expo Architects: Minoru Yamasaki

Taking the Y position in the list of Expo Architects is Seattle-born Minoru Yamasaki, who made his breakthrough as an architect by designing the US Science Pavilion for World Expo 1962 in his home city.

The United States Commissioner wished to create a building to exhibit the possibilities of science – in line with the Expo’s “Man’s Life in the Space Age” theme – with the requirement that the structure was to be converted into a warehouse after the Expo. Yamasaki rejected this stipulation and the Commissioner agreed to let the architect design the pavilion as he wished.

Being built in the shadow of the under-construction Space Needle, Yamasaki conceived an open, floating space, dominated by five 33-metre-high arches overlooking a courtyard with reflecting pools. The style of the arches, as well as the façade of the exhibition buildings surrounding them, takes inspiration from Gothic cathedrals, Islamic temples and Japanese traditional gardens, a hallmark of Yamasaki’s architecture.

Met with mixed reactions from fellow architects, the US Science Pavilion was popular with the public, with its iconic arches being a point of reference for Expo visitors. The symmetry of the structures and balance of proportions are an early example of the ‘New Formalism’ approach to urbanism, a trend that Yamasaki was later celebrated for. Gaining national prominence with Expo 1962, the architect was commissioned to design New York’s World Trade Center only a few years later.

As for the pavilion itself, it reopened as the Pacific Science Center on 22 October 1962, the day after Expo 1962 closed. The complex, which has since expanded and receives over 1 million visitors per year, was given monument status in 2000 and remains one of Seattle’s most celebrated landmarks.

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