Richard Meier, Architect of Light and Space

Architect of the Getty Center, b. 1934

Architect Richard Meier in 2009
Architect Richard Meier in 2009. Photo by Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images (cropped)

Being part of the New York Five in the 1970s may have given Richard Meier an inside track to the Pritzker Prize in 1984. Yet that same year he began his most ambitious and contentious project, the Getty Center in California. Every new home builder has to satisfy planning boards, building codes, and neighborhood associations, but local angst is nothing compared with the well-documented challenges Meier faced satisfying the Brentwood Homeowners Association.

Every stone used and every shade of white (over 50) needed approval. Nobody is exempt from rules and regulations. The challenge of the creative architect is to maintain a design philosophy within these restraints.

"As I have said many times in describing my own aesthetic," Richard Meier said in accepting the 1984 Prizker Prize, "mine is a preoccupation with light and space." Meier was certainly not the first nor the last architect with this obsession. In fact, the arrangement of light and space has given definition to the word architecture and certainly to the works of Richard Meier.

Background:

Born: October 12, 1934 in Newark, New Jersey

Education: Bachelor of Architecture degree, Cornell University, 1957

Architectural Practice: 1963, Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP, New York City and Los Angeles

Important Buildings:

A common theme runs through Richard Meier's striking, white designs.

The sleek porcelain-enameled cladding and stark glass forms have been described as "purist," "sculptural," and "Neo-Corbusian." Listed here are a few of his most significant works.

  • 1965-1967: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut
  • 1975-1979: The Atheneum, New Harmony, Indiana
  • 1980-1983: High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1986-1995: City Hall and Central Library, The Hague, Netherlands
  • 1987-1995: Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu Art Contemporani de Barcelona, MACBA), Barcelona, Spain
  • 1989-1992: Daimler-Benz Research Center, Ulm, Germany
  • 1984-1997: Getty Center, Los Angeles, California
  • 1986-1993: Stadthaus Exhibition and Assembly Building, Ulm, Germany
  • 1988-1992: Canal+ Television Headquarters, Paris, France
  • 1989-1993: Hypolux Bank Building, Luxembourg
  • 1991-1995: North American Headquarters building for Swissair, Melville, New York
  • 1994-1996: Museum of Television & Radio, Beverly Hills, CA
  • 1994-2000: United States Courthouse, Phoenix, Arizona
  • 1993-2000: United States Courthouse, Islip, Long Island
  • 1996-2003: Jubilee Church, Tor Tre Teste, Rome, Italy
  • 1999-2002: 173-176 Perry Street Condominium, New York, New York
  • 2006: Ara Pacis Museum, Rome, Italy
  • 2008-2012: Tianjin Hotel, Tianjin, China
  • 2014: Rothschild Tower, Tel Aviv, Israel

Meier's Modernist Museum Shocks Rome:

In 2005 architect Richard Meier admitted that his mission to design a museum for the ancient Roman Ara Pacis (Alter of Peace) was "intimidating." The glass and marble building certainly stirred controversy. Protestors said that the modernist structure was not in keeping with the alter, which was erected by the Emperor Augustus in the first century B.C.

But Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, avowed that "Rome is a city that's growing and doesn't fear what is new." Listen to the entire story, Roman 'Altar of Peace' Survives Aesthetic War, on National Public Radio (NPR).

In the Words of Richard Meier:

Quotes from the 1984 Pritzker Prize Acceptance Speech:

  • "For me, part of the significance of an awareness of architectural history is that we again value permanence, continuity and, therefore quality. I am deeply concerned with the making of a building and prefer to think of myself more as a master builder than as an artist, for the art of architecture ultimately demands this."
  • "...white is the most wonderful color because within it you can see all the colors of the rainbow."

Selected Awards:

  • 1984: Pritzker Architecture Prize
  • 1997: Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • 2000: AIA 25 Year Award for The Smith House
  • 2008: Gold Medal for Architecture, American Academy of Arts & Letters
  • 2008: AIA 25 Year Award for The Atheneum

Who Were the NY 5?

Richard Meier was part of the New York Five, along with architects Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, and John Hejduk. Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier was first published in the early 1970s and remains a popular treatise on modernism. "The Five was never an official group," said architecture critic Paul Goldberger in 1996, "and its members had as much dividing them as joining them. All they really had in common, in a sense, was a commitment to the idea that pure architectural form took priority over social concerns, technology or the solving of functional problems."

Learn More:

  • Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier, Oxford University Press, 1975
  • Richard Meier by Kenneth Frampton, Phaidon, 2012
  • Richard Meier Houses and Apartments, Rizzoli, 2007
  • Richard Meier Museums, Rizzoli, 2006
  • Meier: Richard Meier & Partners, Complete Works 1963-2008 by Philip Jodidio, Taschen, 2008

Sources: A Little Book That Led Five Men to Fame by Paul Goldberger, The New York Times, February 11, 1996; Ceremony Acceptance Speech by Richard Meier, The Hyatt Foundation [accessed November 2, 2014]