Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

How To Remember Minoru Yamasaki’s Twin Towers

Minoru Yamasaki and a model for the College of Education Building at Wayne State University / Bettman via Getty Images.

In the 1990s, there was no New York City skyline without the Twin Towers. They hobnobbed with Lady Liberty and the Empire State Building on any souvenir plate or T-shirt. They flanked Superman or supported King Kong on movie posters. They were such markers of Manhattan as to be critic-proof.

The centrality and iconicity that made the World Trade Center a target — the biggest buildings in the biggest city in the U.S., two for one — gave many a focus for tributes in the wake of their destruction, 20 years ago, on Sept. 11. From memorial flowers and candles on the Brooklyn Promenade overlooking their absence, to calls for rebuilding, to the twin searchlight beams of the Tribute in Light, to the eventual form of Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s 9/11 Memorial — where the towers’ exact footprints are rendered as eternal voids — the Twin Towers were celebrated as symbols of strength.

But it wasn’t always this way. Both the towers and their architect, Minoru Yamasaki, were criticized upon their completion, with racist and misogynist language dogging their Japanese American designer. The Twin Towers, which at first seemed a career-making commission, ultimately sabotaged Yamasaki’s career and confidence, their long double shadow putting everything he designed after 1973 in the shade.