During my recent trip down to the environs of Los Angeles, I spent a couple of days touring some of the architectural sites, including the Getty Centre. I’d been wanting to visit the Getty Centre for quite some time, based entirely on an experience one of coworkers described during his visit soon before the museum opened.
The Centre is quite impressive. Situated atop a hill at the crosspoints of two ridges, the Centre is a cluster of buildings, an exercise in forms and geometry interspersed with terraces and gardens. It’s a geometric affair, with the structures forming a complex set of interlocking volumes and courtyards, generating space within all while framing vistas outward. The near-white buildings command yet disappear into a backdrop, while the travertine speaks to the surrounding landscape. It’s hard to get a grasp on it all, yet it also manages to never quite slip completely away.
Designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Centre uses the same primary concept that forms the organizing motif he is most famous for, and that is the grid. Or, in the case of the Getty, two 30 inch by 30 inch grids that intersect at a 22.5 degree angle. Now, while many, many buildings use grids as part of their design form, what Meier does, and what makes the Getty Centre such an interesting space, is to use this grid and stick to it with a kind of maniacal rigour. Everything is based on those two intersecting grids, or a module thereof. EVERYTHING.
And this is the story to which my coworker shared with me many years ago, standing in the entry court and following the line of the tiles they were standing on to where it intersected the building and rose vertically as a line of aluminum tiles (of the same dimensions) to a mullion of a window back onto the tile above… And for myself, during my visit, standing inside the building and following a mullion joint line to become the tile outside on the patio to become the aluminum panel of the wall to it travelling down to the ground to become the grid of tiles on the ground to become the panel joint of the wall across the courtyard to become the post of a railing to become the panel joint of the wall beyond…
It is that kind of amazing attention to detail that makes this tick. A Meier building may not have a particularly complex or poetic concept, but the degree to which the concept is carried out and stuck to with exceptional exactitude and thoroughness is what makes things really come together. What might otherwise be a hodgepodge of forms and voids instead reads with unity, and allows for the complexity to sing.
(As a hilarious side note, on the trip I discovered the only time that mentioning I was an architect struck fear in the heart of someone: our guide for the architecture tour at the Getty… not that they had anything to be worried about, by far.)