Richard Meier was born in Newark, New Jersey in October, 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from Cornell University in 1957 with a Bachelor of Architecture and then worked with a series of architects, including Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and Marcel Breuer. Richard established his own practice in 1963.
His buildings make prominent use of the color white. His practice has included housing and private residences, museums, high-tech and medical facilities, commercial buildings and such major civic commissions as courthouses and city halls in the United States and Europe: Among his most well-known projects are the High Museum in Atlanta; the Frankfurt Museum for Decorative Arts In Germany; Canal+ Television Headquarters in Paris; the Hartford Seminary In Connecticut; the Atheneun in New Harmony, Indiana, and the Bronx Developmental Center in New York. All of these have received National Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
In 1984, Mr. Richard Meier was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the field’s highest honor and often equated with the Nobel Prize. In the same year, Mr. Richard Meier was selected architect for the prestigious commission to design the new $1 billion Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.
Richard Meier has maintained a specific and unalterable attitude toward the design of buildings from the moment Richard Meier first entered architecture. Although his later projects show a definite refinement from his earlier projects, Richard Meier clearly authored both based on the same design concepts. With admirable consistency and dedication, Richard Meier has ignored the fashion trends of modern architecture and maintained his own design philosophy. Richard Meier has created a series of striking, but related designs. Richard Meier usually designs white Neo-Corbusian forms with enameled panels and glass.
These structures usually play with the linear relationships of ramps and handrails. Although all have a similar look, Richard Meier manages to generate endless variations on his singular theme.
Richard Meier, the main figure in the “New York Five”, which by the second half of the 1960′s, included some of the leaders of the Post-Modern movement – Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Michael Graves and Charles Gwathmey, creates designs with a unified theme based on neo-modern beliefs in purist architecture. Meier‘s white sculptural pieces have created a new vocabulary of design for the 1980s.
The three of the most significant concepts of Richard Meier‘s work are Light, Color and Place. His architecture shows how plain geometry, layered definition of spaces and effects of light and shade, allow him to create clear and comprehensible spaces.
The main issue Richard Meier is focusing on as an architect is what he termed as placeness: “What is it that makes a space a place.” According to Richard Meier there are ten factors that connect a building to its environment, one or more of which must be present for a space to be a place: factors which cause the Mode of Being; those which emphasize the presence of the building as an independent object; factors which emphasize the presence of the building in its given environment; those which encourage fantasy and play; factors which encourage ecstatic exuberance; factors which preserve a sense of mystery and adventure; ingredients which connect us to reality; those which link the building to its past; facilitate spontaneous exchanges; and affirm people’s identity.
On the grounds of such theoretical definitions, it is interesting to see how space is transformed in Richard Meier‘s architecture, from a rational play of forms into transcendental, quintessential forms framed by and interlaced in landscape. Especially in view of such declarations as: “Places are goals or foci where we experience the meaningful events of our existence, but there are also points of departure from which we orient ourselves and take possession of the environment. A place is something that evokes a notion of permanence and stability in us.”
The Atheneum (1975-1979) is a Tourist and Information Center situated on the banks of the Wabash River on the outskirts of the historic city of New Harmony. Here, “sense of place” is achieved through a series of visual, physical or psychological experiences which gradually establish a relationship to the past, represented by the historic city. Porcelain panels, clear glass, constant play of wall thickness, the breadth of vistas, the height of the columns and openings which interconnect with one another, all create dynamic facades that change according to the interior and exterior experience of the building.
Hartford Seminary of Theology (1978-1981) in Connecticut is a relatively small building (3,000 sqm), which includes all the campus functions originally distributed in various buildings: the church, Congress Hall, library, bookshop, classrooms, and administration. A building of spirituality, the integral values and characteristics of space and light are radiated without any false pretensions. As a religious introversive institution that also serves the community, the building is based on a fine separation between public and private space.
The filtered light, clean forms and expressionist textures successfully contribute to endow a rather sacred atmosphere without disturbing the virtue of openness.
His white is never white since it is subject to constant change through the forces of nature: the sky, the weather, the vegetation, clouds and of course – the light. This is clearly portrayed in The High Museum of Art in Atlanta (1980-1983) – a project that has become Richard Meier‘s hallmark in many respects – a classical manifestation of his profound allegiance to whiteness. A combination of asymmetrical compositions of various types of planes and masses based on transparent straight and curvilinear walls form the exterior of the building. Its entrance atrium at the corner of one of the four clusters presents a tribute and memorandum to the Guggenheim museum. Yet unlike the original, in this museum a majestic ramp only provides access between the various levels, while the atrium walls include windows to allow for a view of the city bringing in natural light.
Spatial clarity and visual diversity create a clear hierarchy of spaces, giving the building a “classical” expression, in spite of its asymmetrical appearance. The monastic whiteness of the interior space maintains the minimalist presence of architecture in relationship to the exhibits, while the natural light causes a constantly changing interior.
The Museum for the Decorative Arts in Frankfurt (1979-1985) is another manifestation of Richard Meier ‘s sense of historic order. Here, Richard Meier converts the plan of a 19th century Villa Melzer into a public complex, reinforcing the connection with the unique historical context. Composed of two tilted grids, the plan balances the deviations of the original building in relation to the river.
The choice of Richard Meier ‘s light and white scheme corresponds to the open character of space. Yet, unlike the use of light in Classical or Renaissance architecture, in this building the spiritual illuminating scheme of a Baroque character is adopted. Here again, illumination is not just perceived as a visual occurrence, but rather as an emotional and even spiritual phenomenon. Light and color do not just draw out the structural and functional properties of the building, but also call out an aesthetic response, creating a unique atmosphere, which generates positive emotions. Thus, the continuous dialogue between the building, its environment and its essential functionalism, acquires a didactic meaning.
Situated on a hill above Santa Monica, Los Angeles, the Paul Getty Center (1984-1997) is the most comprehensive work of Richard Meier, yet nonetheless a proof of the final decline of Post-Modernism. However, some would say that this ostentatious project recalls the timeless beauty of sixteenth century Italian villas and gardens, perhaps that of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.
Richard Meier ‘s choice of materials in this complex is quite untypical. Although the structure is clear and decipherable, it is complex in plan and overly rich in texture. The play of volumes and proportions, manifested in the cascade of terraces and balconies, flow of ramps, galleries, arcades and staircases, weave the interplay of nature and architecture, yet reflects affinity to Classical architecture.
Thus, one may conclude that the Getty Center portrays three key points that characterize good architecture: interaction, consistency and unity. Architectural quality is experienced when “architecture can be used for a long span of time, when it ages beautifully, is original, comprehensible and simple to use”.