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Thread: Richard Meier - Modernist in White Armour

  1. #1

    Default Richard Meier - Modernist in White Armour

    Modernist in White Armour

    A few Samples of Richard Meier's life work:

    (© ActiveRain Corporation)

    Richard Meier at age 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
    Frederick and Carol Smith House
    Darien, Connecticut USA

    (© k+NAP and © Yahoo geocities)

    Richard 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

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 31st, 2008 at 09:52 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Meier's House on A Hill

    Richard Meier's
    James Douglas House
    Harbor Springs, Michigan USA

    On a steep and obviously isolated hill in the Michigan town of Harbor Springs sits the James 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

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:09 AM.

  3. #3

    Default 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.
    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:06 AM.

  4. #4

    Default More on Douglas House - the 'Public Sector' overview with focus on Roof Deck

    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:

    © AIA

    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

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:08 AM.

  5. #5

    Default More on Douglas House - the 'Public Sector' exterior staircase

    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
    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:11 AM.

  6. #6

    Default Meier's Museum in an American Utopia

    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)


    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:12 AM.

  7. #7

    Default Meier's Several Museums in One Setting - Getty Center

    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

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:13 AM.

  8. #8

    Default Meier's Church within a Housing Project

    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.

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:17 AM.

  9. #9

    Default Meier's High!

    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
    Harriet 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)
    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:19 AM.

  10. #10

    Default Meier's Medical Skyscraper

    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)

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:20 AM.

  11. #11
    The Dude Abides
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    NYC - Financial District


    Thank you for this wonderful thread Zephyr. Most of my knowledge of Meier's work had until now been confined to American works in the past 20 years or so.

    The Douglas House - all I can saw is wow. Simply breathtaking. Probably one of the most beautiful houses I've ever seen, anywhere. And it looks like it was built yesterday. That, I believe, is the true test of good Modernism.

  12. #12


    That house often gets this response, pianoman11686, and it should.

    According to memory, I have visited this place six or seven times over the years - the last time with a group pf bi-cyclers from Canada. I have no words to express my reaction, each time I viewed it, except to say it is extraordinarily elegant.

    Aside from the Smith and Douglas Houses, there are other spectacularly lovely houses by Meier that I also hope to post on this thread.

    (I apologise in advance that some of this material has and will overlap existing threads and posts.)

  13. #13

    Default Richard Meier and 'The New York Five'

    Below is a severely abbreviated version of a larger essay that I had written some years back. Citations have been excluded. Other parts of this essay may be posted later.

    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. ...

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:23 AM.

  14. #14

    Default Meier's Self-Admitted 'Transitional' Home: Rachovsky 1 of 2

    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
    Howard Rachofsky House
    Dallas, Texas USA


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

    Last edited by Zephyr; December 25th, 2008 at 08:24 AM.

  15. #15

    Default Meier's Self-Admitted 'Transitional' Home: Rachovsky 2 of 2


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

    Courtesy flickr / J0N6

    Last edited by Zephyr; June 1st, 2008 at 10:24 PM.

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