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.
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.
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.
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."