"Here is a new Venus risen fresh from the sea, a huge white moth just issued from its chrysalis. Here is the clean, fresh, and, as someone said, unreal look of creative architecture." - Unknown, ca. 1963

For any architecture enthusiast, Irwin Library offers inspirational imageries to captivate the mind. There are many myths as to what Irwin was built to look like. The building has been compared to books sitting on a bookshelf, a tiered wedding cake, and it was even described as a steamboat on a river at its dedication ceremony. As products of the people who have lived and breathed life at Irwin, these interpretations of Irwin's structure itself are testaments to the power of the imagination and creativity that occur within it.

Photograph of Minoru Yamasaki, Architect of Irwin Library

Photograph of Minoru Yamasaki, Architect of Irwin Library

Minoru Yamasaki, noted architect of Irwin Library and many other major projects, was born in Seattle on December 1, 1912 to Japanese immigrants, John Tsunejiro and Hana Yamasaki. After canning salmon in Alaska for his tuition at the University of Washington, Yamasaki decided that he did not want to follow in the footsteps of his coworkers, whom he felt suffered “personally degrading circumstances,” and promised himself to “not to let that be the pattern into which [his] life would fall.“ He graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch.) in 1934 and then attended New York University for his Master of Architecture (M.Arch.). Yamasaki went on to design many buildings using his unique combination of architectural elements, often mixing Japanese influences with Gothic and modernist architecture. He later received a Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.) from Bates College in 1964. He died from stomach cancer on February 6, 1986 in Detroit, Michigan.

Comparison of Irwin Library and World Trade Center

Comparison of Irwin Library and the World Trade Center. Both were designed by Minoru Yamasaki.

Minoru Yamasaki's distinct style of design is evident in the architecture of Irwin Library, which is the only building in Indiana to be designed by him. In everything from the blueprints to the notes on the architecture of Irwin to the finished product, there are visible similarities between Irwin and other projects that Yamasaki has designed. As listed on Irwin Library's website, common features of Yamasaki architecture include: 

  • "White as the primary color; pre-cast concrete and white quartz conglomerate
  • Arches and vaults from Gothic and Eastern architecture
  • Strong vertical elements, including narrow, high windows
  • Colonades [long sequences of joined columns] or loggias [covered exterior galleries] with weight-bearing columns
  • Buildings resting on platforms, pediments, or pedestals
  • Decorative metal railings and screens."

From viewing just a few of his designs: the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at Wayne State University, Detroit (1958), the Pacific Science Center, Seattle (1962), the Conservatory of Music of Music at Oberlin College, Oberlin (1963), and the former World Trade Center (1970-71), Yamasaki's favored architectural elements are obvious. Inspired by a fear of heights, Yamasaki often incorporated narrow windows and limited views into his designs. He also expressed a preference for arches and columns, and these commonalities with Irwin Library can be seen in images of the aforementioned buildings.

As mentioned earlier in the exhibit, "Yamasaki wanted those entering his buildings to experience a sense of repose, surprise, and delight." By incorporating various elements such as skylights, windows, vaults, and screens into his designs, Yamasaki was able to create "a changing 'play of light and shadow' inside and outside his buildings. These elements, plus water features and landscaping, bring nature into his structures" as well. 


"" Yamasaki, Minoru (1912-1986), Seattle-born architect of New York's World Trade Center.

"Irwin Library of Butler University." Mission & History.

"" Minoru Yamasaki.