Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mired in Meier--Part Two

The next thing that happened was that the Cooper-Hewitt Museum put up a brief mini-exhibition to celebrate Richard Meier's seventy-fifth birthday and his fiftieth year in the field. I considered the timing of this to be an extraordinary coincidence, because it was announced not much more than a week after I found out about the model gallery and went to see it.

I relished the opportunity to discuss Meier with the visitors for the three weeks or so that this show was on display. While the drawings Meier had donated to the museum's collection were great, I mostly discussed the three models, because I felt that the trio of them really encompassed the full range of the architect's career. They were the Smith House (1967), the Getty Center (1997), and the Jubilee Church (2003).

Smith House displays so wonderfully how Meier separates his houses into two distinct zones: the public zone, which is a glass box, and the private zone, which is a solid box.

--This and Jubilee photo courtesy the architect's website.
That's obviously the public side, with the living and dining areas overlooking the water. You enter the Smith House from the opposite side and cut through the private areas in front containing the bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on. It's just so exquisitely rational.

The Getty project is the ideal example of how he organizes his sites using a number of overlapping grids, based on adjacent streets, neighboring structures, shorelines, and so on. The forms of the structure are then carved out of those overlapping grids.

At the Getty the grids are aligned according to a ridge that runs along the top of the hill, the adjacent San Diego Freeway, and the street grid of downtown Los Angeles off in the distance.

Lastly, the Jubilee Church shows how Meier has applied the diametric approach used so minimally and rationally in the Smith House in ways that become much more symbolic.

The church is divided in half on two axes, forming a cross. To the west, vehicular entrance; to the east, pedestrian entrance. To the south, the sacred (nave); to the north, the secular (classrooms). A pool surrounding the nave refers to the use of water in baptism, and the three concentric shells symbolize the holy trinity.

The curators really couldn't have chosen three more perfect examples of this man's work. They provided such a concise and precise illustration of his methods and expression. It's just a shame the exhibition was only there for such a short time.

The event that really broke the camel's back in my decision to discuss Richard Meier is that he's giving a talk at the 92nd Street Y on the evening of Monday, February 8th. I've been consistently impressed with the 92Y's programming and am very excited about this one. It should be a great finale to this series of posts.

©2010, Ryan Witte

1 comment:

tim said...

wow, look at that, very creative and inspiring, I wish I could design something like that