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Building the Getty

Meier, Richard

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ISBN 10: 0375400435 / ISBN 13: 9780375400438
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997
From Warwick Books, member IOBA (South Pasadena, CA, U.S.A.)

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Hardcover with dustjacket. 8vo. First edition. Book is in VG condition; slight slant to spine. Jacket is in VG condition; price on front endpaper has been removed with a scissors. A lovely book, with 145 photographs documenting the Getty's construction. 204 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 14298

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Building the Getty

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Publication Date: 1997

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


One of America's most eminent architects tells us what it was like to undertake the architectural commission of the century: the building of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Writing with wit and passion and in engrossing detail, Richard Meier takes us behind the scenes of the thirteen-year-long, one-billion-dollar project.

We follow Meier from 1957 when, just out of Cornell, he traveled to Europe for a grand tour and to seek work with two of his architectural heroes, Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto, and through to his early years in New York with Marcel Breuer. After Meier established his own private practice, we see him designing public housing and the private houses that expressed his distinctive modernist style of pure geometric line, of whiteness, and open spaces flooded with light. We also see him, in time, designing such important art centers as the Museum of Decorative Arts in Frankfurt, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona.

And then--in 1984--the Getty Center. Meier tells us how he was selected from more than thirty architects, after a lengthy and involved series of interviews, to design the cultural campus on the spectacular 110-acre site overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The Getty was a new cultural institution, and Meier worked with the program directors to design the buildings that would serve them best. In the beginning, neither he nor the Getty had any idea of the complications in store for them. Each of the Center's six components, including the Getty Museum, had its own set of priorities. Meier faced two important contradictory challenges: the creative and the practical. His task was to design a series of buildings that would stand as architectural masterpieces. But, at the same time, he had to deal with myriad specific demands and limitations imposed not only by his client, but also by the local homeowners, who were alarmed by the specter of a vast complex arising in their midst. As a result, the design process itself was not completed until 1991, when the drawings and large-scale model of the Center were finally unveiled to the press.

But Meier's task had scarcely begun. The sheer scale and complexity of the project, and the number of people involved in every decision, continued to mean constant revisions. As construction moved ahead, Meier lived on the site, yet commuted to his New York office to manage ongoing European projects, while in his new office in Los Angeles, the population of architects handling the Getty grew to more than a hundred. Although the Center's design had been agreed on, much negotiation lay ahead before questions of material, color, and landscaping were at last settled.

Finally, in 1996, almost half of the Center was ready to be occupied, and Meier could see that the work--carried out by the many architects, engineers, technicians, craftsmen, and builders for thirteen years--was well on its way to being completed. Meier's fascinating book, chronicling the creation of one of the cultural monuments of our time, is a unique record of the art and process of building in this century, and an important contribution to architectural history.


Richard Meier's Getty Center complex in Los Angeles, thirteen years in the making, is the subject of this autobiographical account of what has been frequently called "the architectural commission of the century." Meier has the perfect authorial voice, admirably straddling the personal and the professional with aplomb and understated flair. He opens with a straightforward account of his youthful interest in art and architecture, his basement studio in his parents' suburban new Jersey home, his education at Cornell, and his post-graduation European tour, where he unsuccessfully hounded Le Corbusier for an unpaid apprenticeship and failed to track down Alvar Aalto, another hero. His first "published" house was one commissioned by his parents; his first "freestanding work" was an $11,000 pre-fab Long Island home that was later sold to Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks. "Now I often wonder how it is that my architecture came to acquire what for many people is its singular style: this image of a perennially gleaming white building flooded with light," he writes. The rest of the book, which is punctuated by black-and-white documentary photographs, is Meier's well-crafted, detailed account of the Getty commission, including subtle descriptions of the politics involved in all aspects of its design, siting, landscaping, and daily use. It's all here: the immensity of siting the multi-building complex in the mountains overlooking the Pacific, the hundreds of architects who came to work on the project, and the craftsmen and contractors and construction crews who made it a user-friendly reality as well as a stunning modernist masterwork. Meier calmly takes the reader through the maze of issues and construction phases. Few architecture books could be more educational, or more gracefully written. --Peggy Moorman

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