Models are the architect’s rough draft—a first stab at a three-dimensional representation of what a building can be. As such, they typically aren’t built with durable materials, nor are they intended for public display. And today, in an era of computer-aided architectural design, they often aren’t built at all.
It is significant, then, that Richard Meier has chosen to take about 400 of his handmade models dating to the 1960s—small-scale studies of his residential projects and cultural institutions like the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta—and put them on permanent display in a converted industrial space in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The Richard Meier Model Museum, which opened at Mana Contemporary on March 18, includes an archive of Meier’s drawings and collages, a library that is open to students and scholars, and an exhibition space for Meier’s sculptures. But the focal point of the 15,000-square-foot space is the collection of models, which Meier personally curated. Among the architect’s well-known projects rendered in miniature are the Smith House in Darien, Connecticut; the Neugebauer Residence in Naples, Florida; the Perry Street Towers in Manhattan; the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome; and the Arp Museum in Remagen, Germany. Also included are models for projects that were never built, including proposals for the 9/11 Memorial and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
And then, of course, there are the large-scale presentation models of the Getty Center, the most imposing of which is more than 37 feet long. The only way to get it into the space proved to be hoisting it from the outside by crane and gingerly guiding it through a window whose pane had been temporarily removed.
The museum, which succeeds a smaller version that Meier opened in Queens in 2007, represents a homecoming of sorts for Meier, who grew up in nearby Maplewood, New Jersey. "The new museum is part of a larger cultural complex in Jersey City, and we will have a library, space for exhibitions, and an archive," Meier said in a statement. "Eventually, the library will be full of art and architecture books, and as the collection continues to grow with new projects, it will become a resource and research center for students, scholars, and the general public."
Tours of the gallery are by appointment only between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and visitors may either drive or take the PATH train from Manhattan. Appointments may be made through Richard Meier & Partners Architects by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will Lamb is a writer and editor based in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served as a senior editor at Dwell from 2013 to 2015.