An Exclusive Interview with Richard Meier as He Celebrates Half a Century of Architectural Innovation
Five decades of ambitious work has firmly established Richard Meier as a leading figure of contemporary American design. To celebrate the semi-centennial of the New York-based architect's practice, Taschen is publishing Meier, a comprehensive special edition of the Philip Jodidio-edited monograph that chronicles his entire body of work. Along with Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves and John Hejdukell, Meier was a member of the ‘New York Five,’ a controversial group of architects who believed in the purity of architectural modernism, as pioneered by the likes of Le Corbusier. He is responsible for such eminent buildings as the sprawling Getty Center in Los Angeles and Rome’s iconic Jubilee Church. His work shows a deep concern for the ways in which light informs space and has won him plaudits from the American Institute of Architects and the prestigious Pritzker Prize.
How would you say your approach to architecture has changed over the past 50 years?
Richard Meier: The principles that guide the work in our office are rooted in timeless, classical design issues such as context, site, order, and the use of natural light. We are always interested and fascinated by the natural light of every place and how it then translates into light and open buildings.
Looking back on your body of work, do any projects stand out as favorites? Are there any with particular personal significance?
RM: I studied Architecture at Cornell University, and, after working in the offices of Davis Brody, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Marcel Breuer, I started my own practice in my studio apartment in New York City. A year later, in 1967, I received a commission to design the Smith House in Connecticut, a project that marked the beginning of my career. The opportunity to design and build the Smith House clarified my ideas about the making of space, and the house attracted a certain amount of attention that made it possible to take on additional projects.
Tell us about your fascination with the color white.
RM: As far as I am concerned, white is all colors. If I look through my office window, and there is a brightness to the sky, one appreciates the density of that blue sky against the whiteness in my office; one appreciates all the colors of nature more clearly, by looking at the way in which the whiteness sort of bounces that color all around us.
What do you think is most quintessentially American in your designs?
RM: Fundamentally, my meditations are on space, form and light. My goal is presence, not illusion. I pursue it with unrelenting vigor and believe that is the heart and soul of architecture. Openness and clarity are characteristics that represent American architecture at its best, and they are the principles that I hope to bring to every design endeavor.
On the Edge of Modernism With the Master Architect and the Genius Designer
Illustrious modernist Richard Meier and multi-disciplinary creator Massimo Vignelli reflect on their respective crafts, city life, and enduring friendship in this mesmeric film by Johnnie Shand Kydd. Shot at the minimalist offices of Richard Meier & Partners on 10th Avenue and West 36th Street, the two powerhouses discuss their collaboration on the firm’s forthcoming monograph, Richard Meier, Architect Volume 6, chronicling the stark, white, rationalist buildings that define the firm’s aesthetic. The Pritzker Prize laureate's most notable projects include the Getty Center in L.A., the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, and more recently, the two glass-and-steel towers on Perry Street in New York’s West Village that Martha Stewart, Ian Schrager, Calvin Klein, and Nicole Kidman have all called home. Vignelli, too, has left a significant mark on Manhattan, having famously designed the New York subway map and signage, in addition to working on everything from packaging and furniture design to corporate identities for clients like BMW, Barney’s, Xerox and American Airlines. “Architects need to have a certain arrogance, a sense of self-belief,” posits Shand Kydd. “A designer, however, has to be more collaborative. Consequently, Meier and Vignelli have very different natures, but like all very talented people, they both look forward and not back.” Here Meier nonetheless looks to his present city, and beyond, to reveal his select few architectural necessities.
RICHARD MEIER’S TOP FIVES
Favorite buildings around the world:
Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp
Le Thoronet Abbey in Provence
Ryōan-ji in Kyoto
Fatehpur Sikri in Agra
The Guggenheim Museum in New York City
Favorite spaces in New York:
The plaza at the Seagram Building
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Guggenheim Museum
Things every architect should own:
A good supply of General’s Draughting Pencils
A Keuffel & Esser ruler
A 9 - 8 1/2 ft long work table
A white shirt and a black suit
A black Porsche 911
Simon de Pury and Daphne Guinness in Conversation, Part One