Personally, I am partial to Richard Meier’s approach to architecture. According to Meier, a building is an act of “willful artificiality;” a “man-made” spatial construct that functions as a receptacle for experiencing the world of nature. Meier’s white walls act as nature’s film screen capturing ever-changing patterns of reflected color and light. While Meier credits Frank Lloyd Wright as one of his influences, he would not agree with Wright that a building should grow out of the natural landscape, rather he would re-fashion the landscape as a stage for displaying his creation. Meier’s separation of art and nature follows the ideas of the early modernist architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) who likened a house to a “machine for living in.”
I find the relationship of Richard Meier’s architecture to Le Corbusier especially fascinating. A number of years ago, I did some research on the French silversmith Jean Puiforcat (1897-1945) who was Le Corbusier’s contemporary [see Gail S. Davidson, “Perfection: Jean E. Puiforcat’s Designs for Silver,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 163, pt. 1 (January 2003)]. Both silversmith and architect were influenced by design theory, current in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, concerning a governing mathematical system for achieving design unity or harmony. Le Corbusier applied the golden section in his Modular system for the scale and proportions of architecture. Puiforcat demonstrated his use of the golden section in his drawings for silver objects. Meier’s application of regulating lines to organize the Getty Center reflects another aspect of his debt to Le Corbusier’s architectural ideas.
Richard Meier’s gift to Cooper-Hewitt of two drawings for the J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles is part of a curatorial effort in the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design Department to collect architectural drawings by contemporary architects for museum projects. In 2001, Cooper-Hewitt acquired five drawings by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of the exterior elevation and cladding for the Museum of American Folk Art in New York ( 1997). Another design drawing for a museum project by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, Designs for the Galician Center of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1988-93), contains approximately seventeen concept sketches for the museum building situated in the old quarter of this medieval pilgrimage city.