In 1961, a year before designing the World Trade Center towers, American
architect Minoru Yamasaki completed a much smaller project that would
influence the look of his new creation in New York City.
The project was 6,000 miles away, in a country Yamasaki would visit many
times over the next decade, Saudi Arabia. It’s clear from the layout of the
World Trade Center that Yamasaki incorporated aspects of Islamic design
into the towers.
This pattern was most visible at the base of the buildings, which were
ringed by pointed arches resembling those found in mosques and on Muslim
prayer rugs. The plaza fronting the towers paid homage to Mecca, Islam’s
holiest place, by replicating that city’s courtyard layout, according to
architect Laurie Kerr, who has studied Yamasaki’s work.
Yamasaki himself described the trade center plaza, which featured a
circular fountain and places to sit, as a mecca — “an oasis, a paved
garden where people can spend a few moments to relieve the tensions and
monotonies of the usual working day.”
For 29 years — from the time the first World Trade Center tower was
completed in 1972 to Sept. 11, 2001, when two hijacked planes leveled the
buildings — there was little general awareness that New York’s tallest and
most visible towers reflected Yamasaki’s interest in Islamic architecture.
No plaque pointed out this connection. No literature extolled it. Yamasaki
himself didn’t publicize it, even though he dropped plenty of hints in his
1979 autobiography, “A Life in Architecture,” in which he expressed his
admiration for Islamic arches and included photos of all his important
projects — photos that reveal a pattern of Islamic-inspired design.
“The idea of a pointed, ribbed arch was beautifully replicated in the World
Trade Center,” says Nezar AlSayyad, a UC Berkeley architecture professor
who worked with Yamasaki for two years on another project. “It’s ironic it
was used in the World Trade Center, which is then understood by the
hijackers as a symbol of Western capitalism.”
Although the trade center was perhaps the most prominent example of
Islamic-influenced architecture in the United States, there are other
notable examples in every major American city