Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Richard Meier Building the Getty

Richard Meier’s Getty Center complex in Los Angeles, thirteen years in the making, is the subject of this autobiographical account of what has been frequently called the architectural commission of the century. Meier has the perfect authorial voice, admirably straddling the personal and the professional with aplomb and understated flair. He opens with a straightforward account of his youthful interest in art and architecture, his basement studio in his parents’ suburban new Jersey home, his education at Cornell, and his post-graduation European tour, where he unsuccessfully hounded Le Corbusier for an unpaid apprenticeship and failed to track down Alvar Aalto, another hero. His first published house was one commissioned by his parents; his first freestanding work was an $11,000 pre-fab Long Island home that was later sold to Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks. Now I often wonder how it is that my architecture came to acquire what for many people is its singular style: this image of a perennially gleaming white building flooded with light, he writes. The rest of the book, which is punctuated by black-and-white documentary photographs, is Meier’s well-crafted, detailed account of the Getty commission, including subtle descriptions of the politics involved in all aspects of its design, siting, landscaping, and daily use. It’s all here: the immensity of siting the multi-building complex in the mountains overlooking the Pacific, the hundreds of architects who came to work on the project, and the craftsmen and contractors and construction crews who made it a user-friendly reality as well as a stunning modernist masterwork.