Born: 1934, Newark, New Jersey
Education: Cornell University, Bachelor of Architecture (1957)
Practice: Since 1963; offices in New York and Los
Projects: Ara Pacis Museum, Rome, Italy (2006); Jubilee Church, Rome,
Italy (2003); 173/176 Perry Street, Manhattan (2002); Getty Center, Los
Angeles, California (1997); Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona,
Spain (1995); Canal+ Headquarters, Paris, France (1992); Frankfurt Museum for
the Decorative Arts, Frankfurt, Germany (1985); High Museum of Art, Atlanta,
Georgia (1983); The Atheneum, New Harmony, Indiana (1979); Douglas House,
Harbor Springs, Michigan (1973); Smith House, Darien, Connecticut, (1967)
Richard Meier: Timepieces: 50 Years of Collage (Galerie Gmurzynska,
2014); Richard Meier by Philip Jodidio (2013), Richard
Meier Architect, Vol 1-6 (1991-2014); Richard Meier (Taschen, 2012); Richard
Meier (Phaidon Press, 2012); Meier:
Richard Meier & Partners, Complete Works 1963-2008 (Taschen; 2008); Richard
Richard Meier: The Architect as Designer and Artist by Volker Fischer (Axel Menges, 2003); Richard Meier Architect (Monacelli
Press, 2000); Building the Getty (University
of California Press, 1999); Richard Meier
Houses (Rizzoli, 1996); Richard
Meier Works and Projects (Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1996); Richard Meier Details (Birkhäuser,
Prize (1984); Academy
of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Architecture (2008); AIA Gold Medal (1997); RIBA
Gold Medal (1989)
Today is exactly twenty years since the
High Museum opened in Atlanta. Is it one of your favorite buildings?
Well, it is
because this is the first museum that I finished. At the time I was also
working on Frankfurt Museum of Applied Arts, which was commissioned earlier but
the High Museum was finished first. It is a wonderful museum and it has a great
ongoing life. Now at its twentieth anniversary they opened up the skylights to
reflect how we originally designed it. So it is reborn.
How do you feel about when the Museum
decided to hire another architect to expand it?
Even when I
designed the High Museum, the director at that time asked me to make some
sketches how it would expand, because it is inevitable that it will. Museums
tend to collect and grow, and expand their programs. So I made some very rough
sketches and showed how it would connect to a new building and I gave them to
the director. And now I heard that Renzo Piano was selected as the architect.
They thought it was important to have someone new.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary
the Museum launched a curious exhibit The
Undiscovered Richard Meier: The Architect as Designer and Artist. Your
sculptures there seem to be very different from your architecture. They are
dark and apocalyptic as oppose to your buildings that are full of light and
sculpture is not architecture. There is no point in doing sculpture that looks
like architecture or architecture that looks like sculpture. When I work on my
sculptures, I want to be free. I’m just using elements and pieces that are
leftovers from models that we make in our model making shop. These sculptures
are three-dimensional collages of different kinds of elements. Some are more
open and transparent, some are more planer, and some are more volumetric. But
it is about dealing with those kinds of issues, rather than dealing with space
that we live in and move through, and inhabit.
Where do you make these sculptures?
In an upstate
New York foundry. It is my hobby.
Many of your paper collages are
dominated by red color and Cyrillic script. What are they about?
I went to
Russia in the 1980s and I gave a lecture to students of architecture in
Leningrad and Moscow. I traveled around a little bit and I brought back a big
roll of Russian posters, which I used for my collages. My collages are made
from found objects. I use tickets and stamps, and other things that I bring
from my travels. Since I don’t understand Russian language I use it as total
abstraction. I don’t know what it says. I just use it as a material for
collage. And I like using bold colors, which is again very different from my
architecture. If I only made collages out of white paper, at a certain point,
it would be repetitive. Don’t you think?
What memories do you have about your
trip to Russia?
I had an
interest just being there. I remember walking through the Hermitage, the most
extraordinary museum in the world. And the windows were open and the breeze was
going in. It was so casual. It was amazing.
You said in the past that your
favorite building is the next one, but if I ask you to name three of your built
works, which ones give you most satisfaction?
I would say
that all of these projects are museums. Let’s say the Getty Center, the Museum
for the Decorative Arts in Frankfurt, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in
Barcelona. When I look back, I am very happy about these buildings.
What are the qualities of each of
these buildings that you intended to emphasize the most?
They are all
different—different times, situations, and contexts. At the Getty, the most
important thing is the relationship between inside and outside; how different
buildings relate to each other and to the garden. In Frankfurt, it is about the
relationship between the new building and the existing one; the relation to the
park and to the city. And in Barcelona, the context is much more urban.
Was the museum in Barcelona a
No, I was
invited by Barcelona mayor to go there and pick the site. We walked in
different neighborhoods and picked one together.
The mayor invited you because he
wanted to have a Richard Meier building in the city?
The same happened in Rome for the Ara Pacis Museum. The original building for
the altar was falling apart, so the mayor of Rome invited me to build a new
Your very first commission was your
parents’ house. What kind of a house was it?
lived in a rather conventional house in Newark, New Jersey. It was three
stories tall and especially my father was tired walking up and down all those
stairs. They wanted a smaller, simpler house on one level. So they bought a
small site and I built a one-story house for them.
You just mentioned Newark where you
grew up. Isn’t it where Peter Eisenman also from?
and I grew up in the same town. We went to the same high school and the same university.
He is a few years older than I am but I knew him in high school because he was
a cheerleader in a sports team. He is also a distant cousin of mine.
What words would you chose to describe
transparent, filled with light, rational.
Would you mind telling me what is
architecture for you?
is really about making space for human habitation in an uplifting and
meaningful way. It is about space that moves you and has an aura of something
Does it have to be habitable?
know, a sculptor can make a square wheel but an architect has to make it round.
So that goes without saying.
What kind of a place do you live in?
I live in an
apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It is a conventional apartment, which
I modified only slightly.
Wouldn’t you rather live at
one of the three glass towers you designed on the West Side overlooking the
I wanted to
move there but I don’t have time to design a new place, get it built, and then
Many of the people living in those
glass towers are celebrities. Was there ever an issue of a compromise between privacy
just pull the blinds and you have privacy, just like here in my own office. You
see it is open and transparent but if I need privacy, I just pull the blinds.
But is it allowed to put the curtains
or blinds in your buildings? Wouldn’t the curtains dramatically alter the look
of the buildings, which are almost entirely glazed?
Well, we are
going to provide curtains, designed by us. So people can do whatever they want
once the curtains are pulled.
The Getty Center is the most prominent
of your projects. It is known that there were over one hundred restrictions in
the guidelines. But what you did absolutely your way was to use your famous
grids, as many of your projects are based on a modular system. Is it true that
the entire Getty Center is laid out on 30- by 30-inch grid?
Yes and it
works horizontally, as well as vertically. It is very hard to do. All of my
projects are laid on grids but the grid usually varies, depending on a
situation and what seems appropriate. I always try to have a module.
Sometimes we start with one dimension and end up with a very different one for
many different reasons. Remember that a module is not something rigid that you
can’t change within a system. You can have the same distance between the
columns and a variety of additional modular systems.
How would you describe the experience
working on Jubilee Church in Rome?
When I won the competition, they said, “We love it. Don’t change it”. And I
said: “Well, I think we can make it better.” But they didn’t want me to change
anything. That is very unusual. And basically what is built now is what was
designed at the time of the competition.
Geometrically, it is a radical
departure from most of your projects. Did you do many schemes for that project?
No, just one.
Where did the idea of using spherical
forms come from?
It came from
the site. It is a vast open space and that’s how I imagined it when I was
After you won the competition you were
received by the Pope John Paul II. What was his involvement in the project?
the project to the Pope and he loved it. Then we exchanged gifts. That was the
only time I met the Pope.
What was your present to him?
One of my
original drawings of the church.
And what did you get?
I think it
was a pin or something…
I read critics’ contemplations about a
missing chance in this project for you to use bright colors for stained glass
window, like the one in Ronchamp by Le Corbusier.
was a chance but I chose not to. I didn’t think it was necessary. It didn’t
seem it would add anything. There is light and color all around it.
What do you think about Le Corbusier’s
No. I never
liked how he used his colors.
Did you look at his work through black
and white lenses?
and I saw a lot of his buildings in person.
Have you been to La Tourette? Some
architects say it is the most powerful work of modern architecture.
is magnificent. The organization of the building, how it sits on the site… But
color is really incidental there. Color is not what makes a building.
I love your wall sculpture by Frank
Stella here at your office; it beams like a beacon with the most vivid colors I
have ever seen.
I love them; I sit here and look at his colors every day.
It gives color to the room in a way flowers on my desk give color to this room as well. I met Frank in 1959. We
used to go to the same painting school, and, after classes, we would go for
beer together. We became very good friends.
Did you two ever collaborate?
No, but we always talk about such possibilities. One day,
Your projects are often described as rationalist buildings that make prominent use of the
color white. What are the main advantages of white
First, white articulates
the volume—it articulates architectural ideas in the clearest way. The linear
elements such as window frames or handrails juxtaposed against plainer elements
read most clearly in white. Second, white buildings always change color, and
diverse colors of nature are always reflected and refracted in the whiteness of
a white building. To me, that’s very important. White has many colors. In my
first projects, I used painted wood, and then, I discovered metal panels, a
durable material that could last and that could express ideas inherent in my
architecture. Metal panels, of course, could be used not only in rectilinear
forms, but also in curves and fluid shapes that one couldn’t do with other
How did your fascination with white
It began with a lot of reading about the work of Frank
Lloyd Wright. Wright talked about organic and natural materials and the fact that architecture was organic. But
architecture is not organic. You
cut down a tree, and it is no longer organic or living. It is static. When you
use the wood, you have to protect it. Either you seal it, or you paint it.
Painting the wood is what preserves it. So the whiteness is what distinguishes
manmade from natural. Therefore, Frank Lloyd Wright was wrong.
So you are going against Wright, and
by using white you emphasize the fact that, in your view, architecture is not
should also say that I could not have done any of my houses the way that I did
without being in awe of Fallingwater. But I also drew a clear separation
between architecture and nature, which in Wright’s case was much fuzzier.
In the 1980s a lot of architects
turned to Post-Modernism with their affection for historicist motifs. Your
architecture then and now has been consistently modernist. What is it about
Modernism that attracts you so much?
It is in my
blood! I was born a Modernist. I grew up a Modernist. I believe in the world of
today, not the world of the past. I believe in the future. You know,
Post-Modernism was never popular in Europe. And during the time it was very
popular in America I had a lot of commissions over there. Countries like France
and Italy had some influence but not so much in other parts of Europe because
in Europe there is a very different sense of history. I think in America it was
a lack of history that allowed some people to direct their imagination into
this kind of pseudo-history.
Some architectural critics complain
that your architecture no longer surprises in the way the Smith House or
Douglas House once did. Critic Joseph Giovannini wrote, “We have grown to
expect Meier from Meier.” How would you respond to such criticism?
Well, do you
like classical music?
Good. I love classical music too. I can listen to
Beethoven over and over again. It is always Beethoven for me and his music is
fabulous. I wish each of my buildings were as good as each of Beethoven’s
symphonies. I don’t expect Bach from Beethoven.