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Richard Meier


Samples of Richard Meier's life work:

(© ActiveRain Corporation)

Richard Meier at 49

(© Pritzker Architecture Award, the Hyatt Corporation)
Richard Alan Meier was born in 1934 in Newark New Jersey. Twenty-five years later - after graduating from Cornell University’s Architecture School, and after Cornell, working briefly for SOM - Meier decided that the best mentor he could personally select was Swiss-born architect, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret. Of course, most of us know Jeanneret by the name he gave himself - ‘Le Corbusier' a spin on his grandfather's name that resembled this French word for Raven.

To meet the great man, Meier would need to travel to Paris. Once there, he intended to ask Le Corbusier if he could become an intern. And oh, by the way, he would make this request with an attached offer that he believed that Le Corbusier could not refuse – he would work for free.

"Absentee Mentor"
Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye
1928-31 Poissy, France

(© k+NAP)
Meier deliberately had not sent any written correspomdence nor made any telephone calls in advance. He simply came to Paris to see Le Corbusier unannounced, with all the power of a direct plea. But once he identified himself as an American. Le Corbusier summarily told Meier that he, the great Le Corbu', did not want anything to do with him, and that Meier should pursue his craft with someone other than himself, preferably far away from Paris.

You see, Le Corbusier at this time was angry about America, and by extension, Americans of any stripe. He felt that America had blocked his architectural projects proposed to the UN, for purely political reasons. And he was also suspicious of any contact with Americans, since he thought they had used these methods to sabotage his work elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Meier spent the next twenty-five years of his life, becoming one of America’s greatest architects. By the age of 49, he was the youngest architect to have ever received the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Award - often called the Architectural equivalent of the Academy Award. And from his first seriously recognized work, the Smith House in 1963, until his largest commission, the J. Paul Getty Center received in 1984, he was ironically categorized by many as perhaps the greatest student of the Le Corbusier legacy still living.

Nearly all of Meier’s works, and he has been prolific since Smith House, are sometimes thought by Architecture critics as endless variations on the same theme. But like Brahms in music, what beautiful variations he has spawned. His buildings are usually clad with something rendered in white – such as painted metal, stucco, porcelain tile – with the rest of it with glass. He uses liberally what the French call the "brise de soleil" (external sun screens) when it suits his purpose, the same as Le Corbusier. And he loves to use tubular railing on his staircases and ramps, with the latter usually dressed in white, also like Le Corbusier in his earlier efforts. Le Corbusier's work above, whilst under the influence of "Purist" styling, a term that he and a French painter coined for a new artistic aesthetic, illustrates the fountainhead to Meier. Villa Savoye was built before Meier was born, Meier's first significant home was completed just after Le Corbusier's tragic death - compare-and-contrast the above with that below and then tell us what you think about this subject:

Richard Meier’s Smith House
Darien, Connecticut USA

(© k+NAP and © Yahoo geocities)
Meier does not deny his preference for white structures, nor does he deny the influence of Le Corbusier’s ideas on his practise of architecture. But he quickly adds that many other architects have influenced him as well. Moreover, he insists that through his experience, he has developed a unique way to move light through structures, and hence, create space and order out of the resultant form that reflect his personal vision. Smith House was voted, twenty-five years after it was built, as one of the 31 most influential buildings on modern architecture by the AIA - high praise for the first work seriously considered of Meier.

- Zephyr (aka Brainwashed 1966)
Richard Meier's Douglas House
Harbor Springs, Michigan USA

On a steep and obviously isolated hill in the Michigan town of Harbor Springs sits the Douglas House, one of my personal favourites of Meier's private homes. It looks larger than it really is, because of all the glass, but I can assure you its footprint is small, and its multi-leveled "wedding cake" design is carefully executed to anchor it on this hill:

House on a Hill - The "Public" Sector of the Douglas House

© k-NAP
The "public" sector of Douglas House - "public/private" are Meierian expression - faces Lake Michigan. To get there, however, one must drive, walk or cycle along a narrow road and enter on the eastern or "private" side. That side looks like it is not part of the structure at all, with few windows and the look of a white wall. This rear entrance is actually to the roof of the building, via a “flying bridge”. After descending into the building, which is essentially a summer retreat, imagine relaxing in this interior space:

Douglas House - Interior

(complete with chairs that are designed by
Le Corbusier)

Closed Blind View from One Direction

View of Area from Reverse Direction with Blinds Raised

© flickr / joe83ltu on left, k-NAP on right
More on Douglas House - the 'Private Side' exterior

"So steep is the slope to the water that the house appears to have been dropped into the site, a machine-crafted object that has landed in a natural world. The dramatic dialogue between the whiteness of the house and the primary blues and greens of the water, trees, and sky allows the house not only to assert its own presence but to enhance, by contrast, the beauty of its natural environment as well."

— Richard Meier, Richard Meier, Architect, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)

We have already noted that the "front entrance" is seldom shown on either the Smith or the Douglas House. Further, that Meier prefers to call this side - the "private side" (or "private sector," if there are two or more sides involved). Why does he do that? Let's take two views of the Douglas House on the private side:

Private Side of Douglas House:

left is entrance via the "flying Bridge"
right is view from that bridge on the northeastern side

© flickr / joe83ltu
There is no attempt to dress this side up. For Meier, this is a private side that is meant only for service and entry functions. The flying bridge, which is a vaguely Medieval phrasing, evokes the image of a moat and crossing into a protected castle.
Below is a black-and-white view of the public sector, photographed by the AIA. The house actually sits on a seamless pedestal, that is the same width and depth of the visible part of the structure. Those pipes you see are stainless steel, and are connected to a white box because they are flues to a fireplace that lies primarily within this white box.

Public Sector of Douglas House:


Please review the top of the building, above, As reference points, note that the roof deck has a single tubular bar for railing, and the tops of the flues ascend beyond that rail before terminating. With these references,you can easily transition to the closeup pictures that follows:

Roof/Deck of House

© flickr / joe83ltu

There are two sets of staircases - the interior staircase if you look at the prior post's overview picture is on the left side; the exterior staircase is on the opposite side. The staircases are deliberately placed on the edges of the structure to avoid any obstruction to Meier's directional viewing plan.

These photographs were made as the photographer came down two storeys of the exterior staircase:

all images derived from: © flickr / joe83ltu
Richard Meier’s The Atheneum
New Harmony, Indiana USA

This museum is primarily lit with carefully screened natural light within an open floor plan. The artwork is protected quite cleverly by the spacing of floors above and below. Closeups reveal the extraordinary white porcelain tile on the exterior of this four-storey (see below), that sits on what I believe is a man-made. terraced hill (don't quote me on this). Although I have never been on its balcony, I understand that it allows you full 360-degree access to the best view of New Harmony, and the nearby Wabash River. New Harmony is NW of Evansville, if you are planning on traveling in that area to see this building.

Richard Meier’s Graphite (Pencil) Draft of Exterior Aerial of "The Atheneum"

(© 2007 Richard Meier and given as a gift to MOMA in NYC)

Two Views of "The Atheneum"

(© Columbia University NY, NY USA)

Richard Meier’s J. Paul Getty Center
Los Angeles, California USA

This is the most extensive project that Richard Meier had yet undertaken, coming in the same year that he received his highest honour – Pritzker Architecture Award. The massive layout of buildings prompted him to combine his characteristic white structures with those made of light coloured stone. The complexity and pristine beauty were everywhere on display, as he spent a decade and a half working on this masterwork.

top aerial © Wikipedia; multi-photo collage © epdlp;
remaining are © Reed College in Portland, Oregon USA

Richard Meier's Iglesia del Jubileo (Jubilee Church)
Roma, Italia Europa

This building received AIA's highest Award, slightly over a year after it was completed, in a depressed neighbourhood in Rome. To quote their house organ, AIArchitect, from the January 2005 edition:
Jubilee Church, Rome
Richard Meier & Partners Architects, LLP,
for Opera Romana, la Preservazione delle fede e la Provvista di Nuove Chiese in Roma

This church was conceived as a new center for an isolated housing quarter outside central Rome. The triangular site is thrice articulated: dividing the sacred realm to the south from the secular precinct to the north; separating the approach on foot from the housing to the east; and separating the approach on foot from the parking lot to the west. The paved sagrato to the east of the church extends into the heart of the housing complex and provides a plaza for public assembly. Christian symbolism is revealed throughout the complex. The three concrete shells that, with the spine-wall, make the body of the nave imply the Holy Trinity. The pool reflects the role of water in Baptism. The materials in the portico allude to the body of Christ’s church while referencing the fabric of the adjacent residential area. “A building with beauty from every side,” noted the jury, and “a true focus for the neighborhood. The church reveals spectacular daylight—dappled, dynamic, kinetic, openness in spirit, yet a containment of the eye. The quality of the light is breathtaking.”
And after two 2D graphics next, are a few of the many lovely pictures that have been taken of this church, in the shadow of crowded Roman area.:
2D Representations of location within housing projects (left) and exterior front and rear (right)

Church as built from several exterior angles

Interior of Chapel: Floor to Roof

(© Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP)

(© Wikipedia)
After competing against many of the world's finest architects for this commission, including Santiago Calatrava Valls, the news media informed Richard Alan Meier that he would now be the first Jewish architect in history to design a church for the Roman Catholic Church. And what is equally significant, it was on the 2000th Anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Meier underlined the fact that there were three Jewish architects that competed (one of whom was Frank Gehry), and that each could have won with their ideas and design. But he was honoured and proud to be the first, and was well aware of the project's significance despite the size of the actual church. Several years later, in an architectural magazine he delivered, with conviction, his take on another aspect of this project. I found his answer both thoughtful and revealing:

The goal of most religious architecture is to convey spiritual power. How does your design convey that kind of spirit?

Richard Meier: Light is the protagonist of our understanding and reading of space. Light is the means by which we are able to experience what we call sacred. Light is at the origins of this building. I am reminded of H.G. Gadamer’s words in The Relevance of the Beautiful: “We only have to think of certain expressions like the ‘play of light’ and the ‘play of the waves’ where we have such a constant coming and going, back and forth, a movement that is not tied down to any goal. That the sense of freedom and movement – both in human festivities, and also in natural phenomena as the play of light – may be seen as fundamentally theological.”

If you visit Borromini’s church (Chiesa di S. Ivo alla Sapienza), you will experience a glorious white interior filled with light and magic. It is one of the great works of architecture of 16th century Rome. Also, S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, also by Borromini, has a quite animated interior.

In the Jubilee Church, the three concrete shells define an enveloping atmosphere in which the light from the skylights above creates a luminous spatial experience, and the rays of sunlight serve as a mystic metaphor of the presence of God.

The Jubilee Church is not a traditional church. If the Vicariato wanted a traditional church, they would not have invited me to participate in the competition. This church was always intended to be a work of contemporary architecture, meaningful for our time and one that is marked by openness. Transparency and light cascade down from the skylit roof, literally invading the interior of the church and also penetrating from below through a narrow slot opened at floor level. People in the atrium are enveloped with mystical light.

October 23, 2003
I noticed the faint echoes of Alvar Aalto's Riola Parish Church in both the interior and the exterior. The treatment of light and the rhythm of the roofline, in particular, are redolent of Riola. But the materials are all different, and appear more fractured in Meier - the net effect is a more contemporary look. Finally, the use of this type of highly processed, rather than raw concrete, is singularly stunning. The latter makes any possible béton brut reference to Le Corbusier, either unwarranted, or at least outdated.
One of Richard Meier's earlier refinements to his museum designs, prior to Getty Center project, was High Museum in Atlanta. No, it was not a tribute to drug paraphernalia, it was named after its major sponsor - Harriet High

Richard Meier's High Museum of Art
Atlanta, Georgia USA

All above © Richard Meier & Partners, except last row right - © flickr / evele79

All after last photo credit © Bluffton University / Douglas Miller
The extended ramp is a symbolic gesture reaching out to the street and city, and a foil to the interior ramp which is the building's chief formal and circulatory element. At the end of the ramp is the main entry and reception area, from which one passes into the four-story atrium. The light-filled atrium space is inspired by, and a commentary on, the central space of the Guggenheim Museum. As in the Guggenheim, the ramp system mediates between the central space and the art itself. In the Guggenheim, however, the ramp doubles as a gallery; in Atlanta, the separation of circulation and gallery space allows the central space to govern the system of movement. This separation also allows the atrium walls to have windows which admit natural light and offer framed views of the city.

From the official website of Richard Meier & Partners (Bolding added)
After eight years of work, the Camden Medical Centre was finally opened in Singapore. This round tower was an interesting mix of recessed window ribbons and reverse taper, and that mix got mixed reviews. Below are several views of a 3D model, one with a fairly convincing backdrop. This is followed by two photographs of the completed structure, slightly distorted by the lens and further by the angle.

Richard Meier's Camden Medical Center
Republik Singapura

Photographs of three-dimensional model

(© Richard Meier & Partners)

Exterior Views of Completed Building (with several changes from the model, mostly minor)
Five Architects who became ‘The New York Five’

In the late 1960s in New York City, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) brought together the work of five would-be Architects, all of whom had no particular uniformity, but were placed into the same ... circumstance. Looking back to this time, one prominent observer stated that all the Architects involved were “scarcely known,” but indicative of the success of the exhibit, they would collectively be known ... as “The New York Five.” This ... mis-labeled group, ...[has] since become a high-water mark in Architectural history, and for several reasons … To the extent that Architects are known to the ... public... , these five men were [still] fairly obscure, but within this group, at least three were in the process of ‘becoming’ ...

Richard Meier and Michael Graves ... were a mere three months apart in age, Graves was the elder … Meier was making a name for himself with Smith House, which was a seminal work in his early career. His signature ‘white style’ in ... homes began with that commission, but Meier had deeper roots invested in ‘white’ that went back to Le Corbusier. … Graves was not yet the ‘Post-Modernist’ we think of today, but rather a vaguely aligned ‘fellow traveler’ as ... (one person) disdainfully commented. … In 1964, Graves had established a practise in the same town as he taught – Princeton, New Jersey – but his ambition was greater than just the nearby community. … Money was a strong motivator for Graves, it led to a change in style to attract future patrons, this was the beginning of a pattern for him over the next decade. ...

{The third} was the brilliant Peter Eisenman, the budding Neo-Deconstructivist, who was known more for his theories about architecture than his actual work in architecture. Eisenman published frequently in professional journals, and occasionally outside them, with his elaborate interior designs that were often left unrealised apart from the image in print. Eisenman was on a path that few dared to explore ... he went so far as to state that exteriors themselves were secondary ... "These (Eisenman interiors) look more like Escher prints than architectural spaces," according to one [observer]. ...

The remaining two of The New York Five – Charles Gwathmey and John Hejduk – were not only lesser known, but if one were to inspect the publications of that period, their names were sometimes left out entirely from The New York Five … There were instances where Gwathmey’s models are confused with Hejduk ... Of the two, Gwathmey emerged, over time, as the much talked about talent behind Siegel + Gwathmey; Hejduk, on the other hand, became more a teacher than an Architect ... and he lapsed into obscurity.

In 1972, a small book with the simple title of Five Architects, was ... published. Materials were specifically drawn from the exhibition at MoMA. … It was a poorly designed book with ... an unpolished look. First editions of this book, resembled mimeographed assemblages found in Universities for "internal use only." … A close friend of Meier, the English-born Colin F. Rowe … Architecture Professor at Cornell, was in this period, the 'Modernist' counterpart to Vincent J. Scully, the Art and Architecture Professor at Yale. Rowe eventually wrote what some called one of the more “uninspired” introductions to an important book …

Rowe published infrequently, but his influence was widespread ... He eventually abandoned the Modernist cause, and with his abandonment, the friendship he had with Meier faded noticeably. ...
The white house (is there any other kind?) that Meier designed for Howard Rachofsky sits on a dark granite podium. The landscape consists of a pool made to look like an abstract pond and grass that is raised and lowered in squares and rectangles. Inside are standard Meier staircases, but then there is also a floating spiral staircase that surrounds a supporting post. There is a bridge on the second floor where the low-profile railing is covered with transluscent frosted glass that suggests a Far Eastern screen divider. The bathroom is the starkest of any he has created - white on white with white silver faucets (since changed).

Richard Meier's Rachofsky House
Dallas, Texas USA


©: flickr / fran1825; geocities; Richard Meier & Partners; and where noted on the photograph

Above courtesy of flickr / Hila Ben Avraham, geocities, and Richard Meier & Partners

Courtesy flickr / J0N6
If you were unaware of Le Corbusier connexion to Richard Meier, you would be completely puzzled by the next structure, which contains what many have labeled "The Silo". But even if you were aware of this tie, you may not be instantly clued into the lesser known work to which this is an homage.

More on that in a later post.

Richard Meier's
Federal Building and United States Courthouse
Islip, New York USA

Left - courtesy arcspace; right - © Scott Frances/Esto[/i]

Courtesy archidose / © Richard Meier & Partners

Courtesy AIA Archiblog / © Richard Meier & Partners
Below we have a second reference in Meier's work to what was initially labeled "The Silo". The execution here is far more complex, structurally. The function of this silo is more clearly defined, in that it is a second entrance to the museum for those that come by rail.

Richard Meier's
Hans Arp Museum
Rolandseck, Deutschland

Sketches, Plans and Models

Above © /
Two sketches at top, and two drawings on the next row are courtesy
Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Above © / Three models Jock Pottle

Completed Structure

Inside Glimpse

Getty Images

Outside Orientation

Below is another abbreviated segment from a larger essay written some years back (1). Citations have been excluded. (Part One is located in Post # 13 of this thread.)

"Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox modern architecture. I like elements which are hybrid rather than 'pure,' compromising rather than 'clean,' distorted rather than 'straightforward,' ambiguous ... and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity ... I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning."

Robert Venturi

Meier vs. Stern - The Great Divide begins

One year later in 1973, Five On Five became the book that directly challenged Five Architects. This was the beginning of the ‘Post Modernist versus Modernist Debate' – Grays versus Whites – that took place across several venues from print to live-discussion. If Richard Meier could be considered the reluctant lead of The New York Five, Robert Stern seized the lead of the opposition. None of this occurred in isolation... in the critical period prior to Five On Five, in which the battle took form, there were several indications of a coming break...

Meier and Stern had known each other ... before. Just after he received his Master of Architecture degree from YSOA, Stern was hired by Meier to work as a designer at his fledgling firm. … Ultimately, Stern’s tenure was brief, but one can speculate that Stern had been predisposed to be at odds with Meier’s views prior to coming to Meier’s firm.

While at Yale, … Stern … attended several classes that exposed him to a different way of thinking. … The venerable (Art and Architecture Historian Vincent J.)... Scully, provided (him) … with a thoroughly acceptable raison d’etre for questioning the dominant ‘International Style’. … Scully often compared and contrasted Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier from the main European schools that made-up the International Style. … Stern appeared to have listened carefully based on his reminiscing about his years at Yale. ... Stern was also aware of Robert Venturi's musings on the role of history and imperfection versus the quest for rules and pure form that characterised the European Architects of that loosely labeled ‘style’... This was apparently interpreted then and later as a rigid approach to Architecture by this growing American school of interpretation …

Meier’s words and imagery in this period could have been drawn directly from Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture (...Towards An Architecture) - meaning in this case a new type of Architecture - published back in 1923. Like the great man himself, Meier used such equivalents as: role of light in defining space, the use of contour and surface as the latter two related to perception of mass... Above all, Meier declared that decorative ‘appliqués’ were out in his firm. … Stern was not amused by these positions, as evidenced by what he communicated to his friends at that time … Stern refuses to speak publicly on these matters today ...

Who were the authors of Five On Five? …. Like the "big three" of the Five Architects, there was a corresponding big three within the Five On Five: Robert Stern, Charles Moore and Jaquelin T. Robertson. Of these latter three, Robert Stern was the most formidable in the debate format. …

The man that labeled them ‘The New York Five,’ according to Meier, was New York Times Architecture critic Paul Goldberger. … Goldberger became a friend of both Meier and Stern, finding himself in the middle of the debates between the so-called Modernists and Post Modernists; he was often uncomfortable with both. …

Another who was in the middle was Philip C. Johnson. Johnson practised on both sides of the debate in his career, and was torn between his positions and his genuine desire to befriend, what he called “my kids”. ... Stern and Meier, who were on starkly opposite sides, did not seem bothered by Johnson’s 'flip-flops,' nor did Johnson become an enemy when he suddenly appeared on the other side of Meier or Stern. … A darker side to Johnson was his anti-Semitism. ... Both Meier and Stern were Jewish, and were well aware of Johnson’s views, but neither outwardly challenged him nor distance themselves – it was a curious acceptance of the aging Johnson as a product of his times, although it certainly was not an excuse …

"American architecture is going all over the place, like pellets sprayed from a shotgun. ... You cannot evoke the past by simply taking historical symbols ... What does it mean to put a Roman arch over someone's house in Connecticut? Nothing. Architecture has to do with the totality of the building, not the application of illiterately assembled elements."

Richard Meier (2)
  1. Please note that these included quotations - highlighted at the top and bottom of this post - were never used in the original essay.

  2. Robert Venturi's quotation earlier, made this counter-balancing quotation inevitable. I am well aware that this same quotation, from Richard Meier, is also used in the "15 Central Park West" thread, elsewhere on WNY.