MIT. Sept. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780262543095. pap. $24.95. ARCH
Artist Beal’s first book, nominally a biography of American modernist architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912–86), combines the art historical with the personal. Yamasaki’s most famous buildings were both destroyed on live TV—the Pruitt–Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis and New York’s World Trade Center towers. Beal draws on Yamasaki’s archives to reveal the architect’s personal struggles and conflicted sentiment for the United States; the Seattle-born son of Japanese immigrants faced World War II-era anti-Japanese hostility but also designed a number of U.S. military structures in the 1930s and ’40s, plus the U.S. consulate in Kobe, Japan, in the 1950s. Yamasaki bucked the dogma of austere modernism by adding ornament, tactility, and human scale to his buildings—for instance, the exterior columns of the WTC towers formed subtle Gothic arches and made narrow windows, meant to assuage acrophobia. Beal looks at the WTC and other Yamasaki works in the context of late-20th-century urban renewal, interwoven with accounts of the author’s evolving sculpture and architecture practices and his becoming a father. While not a reference book, the volume would have benefitted from a clearer structure for the black-and-white plates section, especially in-text plate references. (Beal enumerates the sources of his research in a five-page note at the book’s end.)
VERDICT The subject matter might have narrow appeal, but general readers can gather inspiration or motivation from reading about Yamasaki’s and Beal’s rigorous work; in this way, this book recalls art historian Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures, another mélange of memoir and theory.
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