The central figures in the creation of Greenwich Village’s Westbeth Artist Housing—Joan Davidson of the J. M. Kaplan Fund, her brother Richard Kaplan, and Roger Stevens of the National Endowment for the Arts—needed an architect for the project as it evolved in the 1960s. Kaplan recommended a young designer he knew who had recently founded his practice in New York. It was Richard Meier. The group handed the commission to Meier without interviewing another architect and it was certainly a prescient choice. Meier has just celebrated his 50th year in practice as one of the world’s best-known practitioners, having been recognized with a Pritzker Prize in 1984 and the AIA Gold Medal in 1997.
In 1969, MoMA’s Arthur Drexler and Colin Rowe grouped Meier with his New York City contemporaries—Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Michael Graves, and Charles Gwathmey—and dubbed the group the “New York Five.” A subsequent book, Five Architects (Oxford University Press, 1972), became one of the most influential design statements of the period and secured Meier’s place at the forefront of the profession. But it was winning the commission for The Getty Center in Los Angeles in the 1990s that catapulted Richard Meier & Partners into international celebrity and fame.
The firm’s architecture is often described as an updated version of Le Corbusier’s early white geometric forms, but its work is so much more. The early white box houses formally referenced the villas Savoye and Stein, but also defined the notion of the modern home in a new way, more than any other architecture in the post war period. The Hamptons and Malibu are replete with houses that strive for the look and daily experience of a Meier house, but they are mostly bad copies.
In addition to these iconic residential projects, Meier’s firm has designed scores of important and influential projects: United States Federal Courthouses in San Diego, California, and Islip, New York; Weill Hall, the life sciences technology building at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; 165 Charles Street in New York; the San Jose, California, City Hall; The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Ara Pacis Museum and Jubilee Church in Rome. The firm has been able to update its design language into buildings that say “modernism” without being generic corporate towers or boxes.
In addition to the projects featured on this page, Meier’s offices in New York and Los Angeles are currently designing projects on three continents including a hotel complex in Jeselo, Italy; a resort in South Korea; two residential towers in Tokyo, Japan; high rise tower projects in Mexico City; and City Green Court in Prague, the Czech Republic.
This research and development center in farmland outside Bergamo, Italy, is a v-shaped building emphasizing its triangular site and programmatic requirements: technical research facilities and administrative offices. A soaring double-height entrance foyer joins the two wings, housing a long and elegant ramp that provides circulation between floors. The technical wing was designed according to very stringent technical requirements. Meier laid out a simple structural grid and a central circulation corridor to allow efficient and flexible plans for these spaces. A second wing houses offices, conference rooms, a two-story multipurpose hall, and a sky-lit boardroom that cantilevers over the first floor. A spectacular soaring roof creates what Meier calls a “virtual fifth facade that is perforated with movable skylights directing light into offices, circulation corridors, and laboratory spaces, animating the interiors with the changing natural light.
The building uses a high-strength, pollution-reducing reinforced concrete mixture (white photocatalytic “smog-eating”) developed by Italcementi specifically for the project. The structure is a benchmark of sustainable design in Europe and the first LEED Platinum building in Italy.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The most important thoroughfare in Tel Aviv’s historic White City quarter, Rothschild Boulevard, is perhaps the most active pedestrian street with a central green space, allées of trees, and a variety of restaurants and street cafes. This 37-story combined residential and commercial tower utilizes Meier’s iconic vocabulary of glass and white walls and features views of the city’s seaside. Like his other residential towers, the building has a seamless entrance to the street and the pedestrian streetscape of the boulevard. There is a glass canopy structure along the ground level street facades and large openings in the second-floor facades that shelter a pool deck and spa. A passageway with entrances on two streets serves the retail section of the building. The Rothschild Tower looms over the Bauhaus-like White City and portends a new level of development in the dense but low-rise urban fabric.
Newark, New Jersey
Richard Meier has only a handful of completed projects in the New York area, but this one must be especially gratifying to the architect, who was born in Newark in 1934. A mixed-use development of eight total buildings, it houses 200 apartments, a charter school, daycare center, and street-level retail. Meier contends that each of these buildings is “site specific and designed relative to its context. Street wall heights (six stories) are regulated in accordance with the Newark Living Downtown Plan and provide a rich variety of street conditions.” Much of the downtown site had been used for parking lots and have now been transformed into workforce housing for teachers so they can walk to school. It creates a new neighborhood in what had been a declining part of the city. The development is conveniently located to benefit from the city’s efficient public transportation system, from extensive local and regional bus lines to the Washington Street light rail and Newark Penn Station—hub for NJ TRANSIT, Amtrak trains, and PATH train service to Manhattan. While the project employs the traditional Meier formal vocabulary of white walls, it also includes a brick side structure that is unique for the office and a streetscape design that brings his ideas to an urban design plan.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This 10-story commercial office building located in the Leblon neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro is meant to be an iconic headquarters for Brazilian financial services firm Vinci Partners. The project consists of open office spaces and a series of terraces that open up to a private interior courtyard and create a direct connection with the urban artery of Av. Bartolomeu Mitre. The tower, with its formal vocabulary, is aimed at reflecting the site’s distinct orientation and, like most of Meier’s recent work, “addressing issues of sustainability, maximum efficiency, and flexibility.” Referring to the legacy of sun baffles in Rio de Janeiro, the western facade is composed of a set of louvers meant for both maximum sun shading and privacy. To the east, the facade is pulled away from its neighbors to create an internal courtyard and provide natural daylight on two exposures for all offices. It also contains a large vertical garden that ties back into a rough and refined exposed architectural concrete core, which services the building. According to Meier, the project straddles “the refined precision of a white aluminum and glass, free-plan office, and the roughness of concrete and vegetation within the courtyard.”
Bisazza Exhibition Space
This site-specific installation was created for the Italian tile company Bisazza in Vicenza, Italy. Like many Italian companies, Bisazza’s idea of promoting its product is to tie it in with an important cultural project or producer—something American companies should try! Bisazza proposed a Richard Meier retrospective and asked the architect to design the exhibition, including an installation that the company would keep in its archives. The result was Internal Time, a series of eight columns whose geometries gradually angle in one dimension. As the user moves around the “garden” they “experience different qualities of compression and expansion, and changes in light and perspective.” Meier writes that natural light “is the most fundamental element central to our work and we hope this installation creates an immersive and intimate experience.”