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Name   The Getty Center
Architects   MEIER, RICHARD
Date   1984-1997
Address   1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, USA, CA 90049
Floor Plan    

In 1982, the Getty Trust decided to build a facility to house its administrative offices and the staff of its six cultural programs. It purchased a 110-acre site at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles, California, and invited 80 architects to submit their responses to a program calling for soundly constructed buildings to serve and enhance the Getty's institutions in a scheme "appropriate to the site and responsive to its uniqueness." In addition, the Getty Trust emphasized the need to meet these objectives in a manner that would bring aesthetic pleasure to the building's occupants, visitors, and neighboring community. After interviewing the finalists, the selection committee chose the American architect Richard Meier (1934-) to formulate the design. The rugged topography of the promontory and a strict conditional-use permit enacted by a powerful neighborhood coalition placed unusual constraints on the architect, especially the restriction limiting the height of the buildings to 65 feet above the 896-foot hilltop. To meet this restriction and reduce the scale and monumentality of the project, Meier located approximately half the built work below ground with passageways connecting many of the facilities at a level of 876 feet. Above ground, he planned a campus of low buildings instead of one dominant structure and added a five-acre propylaeum (vestibule or entrance) to furnish parking and provide access to the acropolis via an electric tram.

Meier's design for the Getty Center exhibits significant departures from his previous work. One example involves his decision to create an assemblage of buildings instead of a stand-alone structure. This decision forced him to consider urban-planning concerns, such as the relationship of buildings and the nature and sequencing of their interstitial spaces. His response is a 24-acre campus emphasizing freedom of movement between human-scaled edifices and through generous courtyards and gardens. His choice of materials represents another change. Local resident groups rejected both Meier's signature white-enameled exteriors and his alternate choice of metal panels but approved his later recommendation of rough-cleft Italian travertine for rectilinear surfaces and complementary colored enameled aluminum panels for the curvilinear areas. Cutting the fossilized stone into 30-inch blocks to conform to the grid used as the basis of the Getty design presented another challenge, requiring the invention of a guillotine-type apparatus. In addition, Meier devised a method of supporting the cladding on metal plates, leaving open seams between blocks and space between waterproofed interior surfaces and the travertine, diverting rainfall behind the stone to protect the rough exterior from erosion. Meier's suspension of the travertine panels denies the weight and massing of masonry, prompting some critics to describe the stone as having a fake appearance. The nontraditional handling of the material does produce insubstantiality and unfortunate results in some areas, particularly in the surface irregularity of the tall piers in the garden courtyard, but overall, the effect of the travertine's variations in color and texture complements the tiled surfaces and contributes to the unified aesthetic of the complex.

Although the individual steel-frame and reinforced-concrete structures vary in form, they continue the uniform aesthetic by repeating Meier's characteristic 1920s vocabulary of ship railings, flat roofs, and extensive glazing. References to the work of Le Corbusier, Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others provide the distinguishing features between the individual structures and the institutions they house. The design of the Research Institute and the Museum rotunda stand out as original and sensitive compositions, whereas the other buildings appear conservative and understated, achieving their greatest success in dramatic terraces and passages that carefully frame views of Los Angeles, the mountains, and the ocean.

Complexity is introduced in the magnitude of the scheme and the particularity of the plan. An assortment of buildings tailored to the identities and requirements of the Getty programs creates a diverse yet homogeneous campus. Further complexity is added with the division of the J. Paul Getty Museum into an orientation building plus five exhibition pavilions. Meier's decision to conform to the undulation of the topography for the placement of the buildings instead of creating a uniform base platform also adds variety and reduces the apparent scale of the complex. He arranges the buildings along two prominent natural ridges. Buildings located on the eastern ridge include the Museum cluster; a building for the Art History Information Program staff and the administrative offices of the Getty Trust; a building housing the employees of the Conservation Institute, the Grants Program, and the Center for Education; and a 450-seat Auditorium building. The Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities and a support facility containing a public restaurant and cafeteria, plus private dining rooms and meeting rooms for staff, occupy the western ridge. The ravine between the ridges accommodates the entrance plaza, a grand staircase leading to the Museum cluster, and outdoor terraces for dining, circulation, and relaxation.

The deflecting axes of the overall layout and the focus on central circular forms in both the Museum Entrance Hall and the plan of the Research Institute exhibit elements evident in Meier's late work. Inconsistent elements in the completed complex include the decoration of the Museum's interiors by the architect and interior designer Thierry Despont and the central garden design by the artist Robert Irwin. Although the decision to create formal interiors consistent with the items of the collection offers some justification, the installation of Irwin's self-important scheme for the Central Garden is most unfortunate.

Irwin's flagrant excess ignores and mars the tranquility and importance of the place expressed in Meier's earlier plan for the garden. Discounting Irwin's incompatible intrusion, Meier's scheme reaches its highest level in the equipoise attained between the luminous aesthetic of buildings bathed in golden California sunlight and the spectacular spaces and landscape to which they relate. Architectural historian and critic Charles Jencks has praised Meier's ability to create a sense of intoxicating disorientation through the combination of all-encompassing space and continuous surfaces that promote a sense of suspended time and transcendence. At the Getty, this aesthetic experience, which Jencks calls "liminal space," pervades the Getty complex and provides an uplifting experience for the visitor and a true work of art.



Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.2 (G-O).  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.



Brawne, Michael, The Getty Center : Richard Meier & Partners, London : Phaidon Press , 1998

Meier, Richard, Building the Getty, University of California Press, 1999

William, Harold Marvin, Making Architecture The Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Trust, 1997

Deal, Joe, Between Nature and Culture: Photographs of the Getty Center by Joe Deal, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999

Williams, Harold M., The Getty Center: Design Process, Getty Publications, 1991

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