April 17, 2007
by Kate Soto

Event: Inaugural Arthur Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture for Excellence in Museum Design featuring Richard Meier, FAIA: On Museums
Location: National Academy Museum, 04.12.07
Speaker: Richard Meier, FAIA — Richard Meier & Partners, Architects
Additional Comments: Annette Blaugrund, Ph.D. — Director, National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts; ; Gerald Gurland, FAIA; Nicholas Koutsomitis, AIA — principal, Koutsomitis, Architects; Stan Ries — photographer
Organizer: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee
Sponsors: Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates; National Academy Museum; The Cantera Stone Source; Fisher Dachs Associates and Fisher Marantz Stone; RKK&G; AltieriSeborWieber Consulting Engineers; Devrouax + Purnell; Koutsomitis, Architects; Springboard; Edison Price Lighting; Pilkington; Charles J. Rose; Thornton Tomasetti; Paul Rosenblatt, AIA; The Luis A. Ferre Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Luis A. Ferre; The Slovin Foundation; Pentagram

J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles — Richard Meier’s masterpiece.

Andrew Yip

“Every museum is different, and the life of every museum is different,” said Richard Meier, FAIA, whose Pritzker Prize-winning career designing international iconic museums began, ironically, with a project he did not win. Meier presented the inaugural presentation in a new annual lecture series honoring the late Arthur Rosenblatt, FAIA, founding chair of the AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee and man who interviewed with Meier for the failed project. Rosenblatt served under Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving as vice president for facilities during the heyday of the Museum’s modern expansion era.

The museum is more than a repository of art; it is a social center that integrates indoor and outdoor space, according to Meier. The Applied Art Museum in Frankfurt, for example, has become a hub for expectant mothers (although they tend to ignore the artworks). For Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Meier picked the “worst place in the city,” and transformed the space. Echoing Paris’s Centre Pompidou, the adjacent plaza is now used by the whole community — from skateboarders to the elderly who watch them.

Natural light has always been very important to Meier, but it is something that must be negotiated to preserve artwork. One way is by separating exhibition and circulation spaces. He created a sense of propulsion in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art with a circular ramp around the atrium influenced by the Guggenheim Museum. The naturally lit core is separated from the art by the circulation ramp. The Beverly Hills Gagosian Gallery features rotating exhibitions; natural light is incorporated throughout, as the art is not exposed to sunlight for extended time periods.

Perhaps the apex of Meier’s outlook on natural light, social space, and circulation is the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The project had a controversial beginning because neighbors did not want to “see, smell, or hear it.” Meier’s solution was to build atop a hill, affording views of the ocean and the desert. With a “decompression zone” at the entrance, there is heavy emphasis on plaza space. Taking advantage of the California climate, the museum consists of clustered courtyards and buildings. The boundary between interior and exterior space blurs. The use of stone achieves a sense of permanence and solidity. Though initially dubious about travertine, Meier learned through trial and error how to achieve the desired texture. Of the Getty, Meier said, “There will never be another one like it.”

Museums have the potential to be both public and private spaces. Meier’s success lies in engaging the challenge to create both intimate viewing experiences and social spaces.

Kate Soto is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.

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