Richard Meier's Practice at 50

Richard Meier's Practice at 50

One of the New York Five and American modernism's most-celebrated architects is celebrating his 50th year in practice in 2013. We checked in with Richard Meier to hear his thoughts on prefab, what designs he's still got up his sleeve, and that iconic shade of white paint.
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Pritzker Prize–winning architect Richard Meier was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1934, and after graduating from Cornell he worked for some major players in the architectural scene, from now-corporate behemoth Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill to the Bauhaus-trained Marcel Breuer. While the majority of his most recognizable work exists in the geometric-heavy modernist (and bright white) vein, Meier's project archive yields some surprises—for one, the prefab beach house he designed in 1961 on Fire Island, whose simple, boxy form is wholly recognizable to anyone who reads Dwell.

Portrait of Richard Meier, taken at the Smith House in 1967. (Copyright Richard Meier & Partners)

Looking back on a five-decade-long career, Meier reflects: "I am now working on Volume 6 [in an archive which contains] all of our work since the beginning—it’s an awful lot of projects over the years, and not all are built, but I would say 15-20 percent are built. Looking back I feel very good about what we’ve done. When I visit a building I haven’t seen in a number of years I feel very good about it."

In 1972 Meier was anointed one of "The New York Five" (along with Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, and elder statesman John Hejduk) upon publishing their own slim manifesto of sorts, an early form of architectural marketing entitled "Five Architects." And it worked: As critic Paul Goldberger wrote for the New York Times, "by the end of the 1980s four of The Five were designing so many buildings for prominent names from Hollywood to Wall Street that their client lists read like gossip columns." The informal group of throwback modernists—which stood in contrast to a vernacular-influenced, postmodern architect like Robert Venturi, who also rose to prominence in the 1970s—was also known as the "Whites" for its shared proclivity for white buildings inspired by the purist forms of Le Corbusier.

Portrait at The Atheneum in New Harmony, Indiana, taken in 1979. (Copyright Richard Meier & Partners)

Above all, Meier's modernism represents a kind of architecture that is resolutely American, both in intent and execution. "Openness and clarity are characteristics that represent American architecture at its best," he wrote in an introduction to the American Atlas of Architecture (2009), "and they are the principles which I hope to bring to every design endeavor."

Lambert House on Fire Island, 1961. (Copyright Richard Meier & Partners)

"I think it has been modified quite a bit—I haven’t been there in many years but I don’t know if one would recognize it." Any architecture hunters willing to take up the challenge?

Delve into a restored Richard Meier masterwork, the 1973 Douglas House, featured in Dwell's October 2011 issue.

Shamberg House in Chappaqua, New York, 1972-74. (Copyright ESTO)

Arp Museum in Rolandseck, Germany, 2002-07. (Copyright Roland Halbe)

When asked what he would like to build that he hasn't yet, Meier is direct. "I’d like to do a skyscraper in New York City."

The Jubilee Church in Tor Tre Teste, Italy, 1996-2003. (Copyright Scott Frances)

"White is the most wonderful color because within it you can see all the colors of the rainbow. The whiteness of white is never just white; it is almost always transformed by light and that which is changing; the sky, the clouds, the sun and the moon."

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, 1984-97. (Copyright Scott Frances)

Oh, and about that signature shade of clear, bright white paint? It's made by Benjamin Moore and it’s called Meier White. "If I remember correctly," Meier says, "it came out around the time we were doing the Getty."

Bodrum Houses in Turkey, 2007-present. (Copyright Richard Meier & Partners)

Richard Meier on a tour of his firm's model museum in Long Island City, 2010. (Photo: Kelsey Keith)

Addressing the common practice of architectural competitions, Meier explains, "Sometimes if you do a competition, you know you’re taking a risk of it not happening. Many of them that we’ve done remain unbuilt for us, and unbuilt for anyone. We always look at competitions very carefully to try and determine whether it’s just emotion on the part of the sponsors or it's something real.

Michael McCarthy and Marcia Myers spent years rehabilitating the Douglas House, built in 1973 and one of Meier's first major residential commissions. The double-height living room features a custom sofa and low table of Meier’s design. Read the full story from our October 2011 issue here.


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