Architect: Richard Meier | Year Built: 1997 | Location: Los Angeles, California
Visiting the Getty Museum was not something on the list. My three friends and I were tired and full of eating that we only wanted to go back to the hotel. It had been a busy day, waking up early to go visit other museums and landmarks in LA. But it was still quite early during the afternoon. I remember we took an Uber, and I was so tired I fell asleep the whole way. My friends asked me where we were going and I just gave the directions to the driver and fell asleep right after. I remember hearing the drive would talk around 30-40 minutes – because of the crazy traffic in LA. When I woke up, we were driving through tiny streets uphill, and into a receiving area. I really think we went in through the back of the museum or where taxi/uber drivers are supposed to go to because it did not look like an entrance at all.
Well either way, we had to go up some stairs and landed on what looked like a metro-rail station. There were two carts, one going up and the other coming down. Here, we were received by museum workers telling us to wait for the next upcoming trolley. This area was full of the “Richard Meier squares” I like to call it. And had some statues here and there.
There was actually a lot of people going up the trolley with us when it arrived. The total time it took was maybe around 8-10 minutes, but the view was amazing! You could definitely tell we were going up hill, because the incline was quite heavy. We could see all the residential houses along the better parts of Los Angeles and the swarm of cars on the highways. But the trolley was surrounded by plants and trees which made the scenery much better. Anyway, we got to our destination and found a Receiving Tourist Center, and beautiful buildings around us. I was so surprised because as always, I go to places without having read anything about them before to fully appreciate it on my own terms, without other people’s judgments. Walking up to where everyone was walking to, we saw some stairs and long stairs – something Meier is so known for – and stared at the beautiful first building we saw.
We spend so much time inside I can’t even recount the hours. Although we were in a hurry because we wanted to go check out more stuff in LA, we saw every crevice and walked all around the museum. What interested me the most was the fact that the entry was free! Comparing all other centers and museums around the world, and the amount of stuff you see in here and experience here for it to be free is unbelievable.
All the spaces are so welcoming and everything is so well kept. Everything such as the service, the landscaping around, and the spaces are clean and beautiful. Inside we saw pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, many sculptures and decorative arts. There was a place for everyone and everything, such as a kids’ room – which we entered and had a lot of fun in – The collection is spaced out among all the buildings, which are connected by bridges.
The other aspect we liked a lot was the outdoor area. There are many terraces and gardens in the large Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin. This garden is around 134,000 sq.ft. The designer of the garden would always say that “the Central Garden is a sculpture in the form of a garden, which aims to be art.” Also, water plays an important role in the garden, there is a fountain around the restaurant, which we sat at, which results in a beautiful stream that lands into a pool surrounding a maze of bushes and shrubs.
There is also a stream with rocks and boulders of various sizes. More than 500 variations of plant material are used in the garden, but the selection always changes, it is never the same in one year.
As said before, one of the things that interested me the most while walking through the buildings was the idea of bridges connecting one building with the other. It was fascinating because some of the bridges were outside and others inside. With nice shadows and breeze. You could have a glimpse of what was coming ahead and of your surroundings every time you would walk from one part to the next. As well as the ramps, which had light/shadow effects and views to the whole city.
After a while, we sat down at a patch of grass where everyone was either having a picnic or talking to their friends. And we sat there and laid down for around 30 minutes. Just enjoying the view, people watching, and talking. It was a fun experience.
Richard Meier is an American architect whose designs are prominently the color white. He has been the winner of the Pritzker Architecture Price in 1984 and has produced several iconic buildings in his lifetime. Meier was identified as one of the New York Five – a group of modernist architects that were named as the best during the time: Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and himself. According to Meier himself, he describes the Getty Center as:
A center which occupies a unique, hilly site… The program brings the seven components of the Getty Trust into one coherent unity, while maintaining their individual identities. Buildings are organized along two ridges in the topography – An intersection of the twin axes corresponding to the inflection of the San Diego Freeway as it bends northwards out of the Los Angeles street grid. Throughout the complex, landscaping integrates the buildings into the topography with garden sequences extending beyond the enclosed volumes.
I will explain the components of the Getty Center based on Meier’s ideas in various categories taken from the book The Getty Center written by Michael Brawn.
The very early design process shows a linear development along two ridges in the property. These are the grid of the Los Angeles city and the San Diego Freeway. This displacement is what creates the grid of the program.
The control of the strong sunlight and the reduction of solar heat gain are some of the issues architects building structures in California must acknowledge. The problem with the Getty Center museum is that the manuscripts, paintings and most artworks will deteriorate when exposed to direct sunlight. However, light is always crucial to the display of artworks in any architectural project, but how does one deal with this issue? Meier came to the conclusion that the artworks would have to be spaced around the buildings, locating them in spaces and rooms on the upper floors.
The studies analyzed by Meier were all about side lighting, which he then ruled out. He thought about lighting the galleries from above and having controlled openings in the wall as natural means to sense daylight. Meier came up with a movable control that reacts every two hours to the conditions outside. As a result, light inside the gallery changes during the day; in the morning, the west walls have more light, in the afternoon the east walls. The skylights also have neutral tinted glass. There are no signs of light fixtures on the walls, the light is always natural.
Materials and Color
Although the structure of the Getty Center is conventional, a steel frame that sits on a reinforced concrete base, cladding the steel frame is what many architects wonder about. In many ways, the most natural solution to retain the transparency of the material would be to use glass such is the case of Mies van der Rohe. However, there are many situations where glass is not the answer. Meier has been working all his lifetime with creating solid walls from metal panels. These were to be used in the museum while also using large pieces of stone. Meier used stone to cover the retaining walls for various pavilions, and metal white cladding and glass for the rest of the buildings.
Meier says that he does not choose those materials because he has a personal favoritism to them. In fact, anyone might not be able to imagine a Meier building in red brick, but it is not because he does not like those types of materials, it is because they do not have any type of light reflectivity.
Having already talked about the landscape in the beginning of this article, I will only make understandable the fact that Meier sometimes thinks that the landscape overtakes it all, and sometimes he sees the structure as standing out, dominating the landscape. “The two are and must be intertwined in a dialogue, a perpetual embrace in which building and site are one.”