Last Thursday I had the chance to represent Archinect (thanks, Archinect!) at a press tour of the Richard Meier Model Museum, which is reopening for the summer 2010 season.
Apparently Mr. Meier is recovering from hip surgery so wasn't entirely his normal voluble self, but we did get to hear stories about how his children grew up playing on the Getty Museum construction site (to the extent that when the crowds gathered for the Getty opening, they asked their father what all the people were doing at their place), and about the role of models in Richard Meier & Partners' design process.
Large (that is, huge) scale models of the Getty museum are the centerpiece of the exhibit, which also includes a model of the Meier Eisenman Gwathmey Holl entry for the World Trade Center competition, the first model for the Smith House in Connecticut, a variety of models for unbuilt projects, and--new this year--a number of Meier's collages and sculptures.
Apparently, Mr. Meier often developed the collages based on material he collected while traveling, and the sculptures often include, or are cast from, parts of architectural models from his various projects.
Since the star firms whose modeling practices I've been most exposed to are Herzog + de Meuron (from the Archaeology of the Mind exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 2002-3) and OMA (from an office visit and all their books), I was expecting to see some messy, expressive, materially inventive concept models--the kind that don't look like little buildings so much as sculptures, experiments, or the works of children or the insane. So I was surprised at the level of finish in all the Meier models, including ones that were described as "concept" models, like these early iterations for the Getty:
We also toured the office and saw the concept models currently being built by interns: all out of basswood, all cut painstakingly with almost complete abstention from the laser cutter, and all looking like they could be final schemes. But I guess these modeling practices reflect Meier's design values and process, which are more disciplined and traditionally (if I can use this word here) modern rather than wild and expressive. The models are indeed beautiful, and can I appreciate the level of craftsmanship as well as the notion that--as one architect from the firm described to me--even a concept needs to be executed cleanly and precisely to make itself clear.
Included in the collection of Getty models are two models of single exhibition rooms, one of which is large enough to climb inside. These were built in the parking lot at the Getty site in Los Angeles and used to demonstrate to the clients the quality of light established by the museum's system of skylights. The plan is to eventually open up a skylight in the ceiling of the building (that is, the building in which the model sits), so that the model can better demonstrate daylighting conditions. Until then, you can still climb inside and enjoy a charming Alice in Wonderland effect.
FYI: I was told that not all the interns who build these models are paid. I don't mean that to single out Richard Meier + Partners for what is a very widespread practice, but just if you're curious, as I was.
The model museum will be open through August 27, 2010, from 10 am to 5pm every Friday, by appointment only for time-slots of approximately 45 minutes. To make an appointment, call Richard Meier + Partners Architects, 212-967-6060. The exhibit offers a unique insight into the architect's process and work, particularly for the Getty Center, and it's definitely worth a trip out to Long Island City if you're in the area. (It's just a couple of blocks from PS1!) It sounds like their schedule fills up pretty quickly, so I'd recommend calling soon!
Thanks for reading,
Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.