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Publications about the Architecture
After fourteen years of planning, design and construction,
the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles opened to the public in December
1997. The Getty Center is one of the largest privately funded architectural
complexes ever designed and constructed in a single architectural campaign.
Several books on the Center have already been published and it has been
widely reviewed in the world's press.
Like this web site as a whole, the annotated bibliography
below focuses on the architecture of the Center, including its landscaping.
It does not deal more broadly with the J. Paul Getty Trust and its programs
or with the architects, Richard Meier and Michael Palladino, or other
individuals involved in the design and construction of the Center. I
have not included Robert Irwin's luxurious garden sculpture ("Central
Garden") because it is a separately commissioned work of art.
Because newspaper and magazine reviews are necessarily repetitive,
the critical reviews below are limited to those that add special insight
or convey the extraordinary range of opinion regarding the nature of
the architecture and its success or failure. In my view the Getty Center
is one of the most exhilarating people spaces of the twentieth century.
Descriptions of Specific Aspects
of the Architecture and Landscaping
Architecture & gardens: a tour of the Getty Center.
Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, c.1999; folded single sheet handout.
One side includes a large, three-dimensional diagram of the Getty
Center; the other side provides an enlargement of the portion showing
the Museum and "Central Garden." These are the clearest, most detailed
diagrams published of the Getty Center architecture, similar to the
larger versions on display at the Center. One side provides facts
about and explanations of the architecture; the other provides facts
and a few descriptions concerning the landscaping and more extensive
images and descriptions of the "Central Garden." As a guide for the
typical visitor, the photographs are taken only from public areas.
Concert of wills. A film by Susan Froemke,
Bob Eisenhardt with Albert Maysles. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust,
1997. Also available as video, 1 hr. 40 min.
Commissioned by the Getty Trust, this remarkable film
provides an intimate view of the main actors in the decision-making
process at the heart of the Getty Center design. Nothing is shown
of the Trustees process of selecting an architect, but the film provides
year-by-year glimpses from 1986 until the opening of the Center in
1997. The focus is on the decision making process, especially on areas
where professional expertise conflicted with professional expertise.
The film presents the view that this was an often tense but ultimately
productive process in which a finer, more resolved product resulted.
In an early scene, the film records Ada Louise Huxtable, a member
of the Design Advisory Committee, voicing this very expectation. As
a film recording presentations and discussions in key meetings, the
film provides insights unavailable, impossible in print. Disagreements,
in some cases conflicts, are shown between Getty staff and the Brentwood
Homeowners association regarding building restrictions, between Museum
Director, John Walsh, and architect, Richard Meier, over design of
the galleries, between Getty Vice President-Project Director, Richard
Roundtree, and Meier, over accomodations for public comfort design
rigidity, and, the one area of open hostility, between sculptor Robert
Irwin and Meier over design of the "Central Garden." In the process,
much is revealed of the purposes underlying the design. Relatively
few informative views of the Getty Buildings are shown, but there
is excellent footage of different stages of the construction and especially
informative filming of the Mariotti Quarry outside Rome and the processes
for felling, cleft cutting, and sawing the travertine. Meier is the
central figure throughout.
Forster, Kurt W., "A citadel for Los Angeles and
an Alhambra for the arts," in Richard Meier, Richard Meier: The Getty
Center. Ed. Toshio Nakamura. A+U (Architecture and Urbanism) special
issue (Nov. 1992); paperback.
A characteristic essay by a European architectural theorist,
the former Director of the Getty Research Institute. The Getty Trust
and design of the Center are discussed in the context of changing
social conditions in the United States. Design concepts are discussed
in relation to previous architecture, notably Louis Kahn's Salk Research
Institute, the arts college and community at Black Mountain, and the
Alhambra. As an early essay by a participant in the evolution of the
architectural program, Foster provides important insights into some
of the larger theoretical concepts involved in the design process.
Futagawa, Yukio, ed. and photograph. Richard Meier.
GA Documenta Extra No. 08. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita, 1997; paperback.
Thirteen photographs of the architecture taken about
1996-97 including three double-page spreads in color, about sixteen
pages of diagrams and models. The first publication to include plans
of the Center in its final form. Meier is interviewed by Yoshio Futagawa,
providing about three pages of useful text about the Getty Center.
The Getty Center: Richard Meier & Partners.
Text Michael Brawne; photography John Linden; drawings John Hewitt,
Richard Meier & Partners. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1998; paperback.
This is the single most comprehensive
and fully researched publication on the architecture of the
Getty Center. Fifty superb, professional, color photographs, many
at full page size, 11 3/4 inches square. Twelve are interior photos.
Over thirty pages of drawings for the architecture, including a five
page drawing of a composite longitudinal section. Fifteen black-white
photographs of the models. One of the only publications to include
informative captions, a lost opportunity for most publications on
nearly all subjects. The only long, comprehensive,
fully informed text, examining many pros and cons. Includes
a brief step-by-step explanation of gradually evolving changes in
the design. An extensive bibliography.
"Making Architecture: The Getty Center from Concept through
Construction," on the web site for the J. Paul Getty Trust, in the
ArtsEdNet section, at http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Exhibitions/Arch/index.html.
A selection from the print publication listed below under
William, Harold M. Described as "a Web version of 'Making Architecture:
The Getty Center from Concept Through Construction' (on display until
December 6, 1998) at the new J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center."
Includes 36 color photographs and a diagram of the completed architecture
grouped according to major buildings. Also includes 8 diagrams and
26 photographs, black-white, of the construction organized chronologically.
Each image can be enlarged and brief captions are provided.
Meier, Richard. Building for art/Bauen für
die Kunst. Ed. Werner Blaser. Basel: Birkhaser Verlag, 1990.
A large format book. For the Getty Center there are
twenty-three pages of often large illustrations, brief text, and a
few helpful captions.
Meier, Richard. Building the Getty. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
With the exception of six illustrations of models, the
photographs were all taken by the Meier himself. It is perhaps unique
that a major architect has not only written a first-hand account of
his most important commission but has also published a personal photographic
record of the process. The illustrations are all black-white but include
13 double-page spreads and the best published views of the site before
and during the extensive grading. The photographs are well reproduced
but not fully served by this medium format volume. They deserve large
format publication and exhibition as photographs.
Meier, Richard. Richard Meier: The Getty Center.
Ed. Toshio Nakamura. A+U (Architecture and Urbanism) special issue
(Nov. 1992); paperback.
Many of the usual plans, elevations, perspective and
axonometric views are here reproduced more clearly as double page
spreads. Previously unpublished material includes several photographs
of the site before and in early stages of construction, and a number
of Meier's early diagrams and sketches. The text consists of an essay
by Kurt W. Foster, "A Citadel for Los Angeles and an Alhambra for
the Arts," essay by Henri E. Giriani, "Richard Meier's Getty Center,"
and an informative six page interview of Meier, presumably by the
editor. Also included is a description, with figures, of the physical
features of the site and buildings, building program chronology 1983-1991,
and lists of persons and companies involved.
Richard Meier Architect. New York: Montacelli
Press, Inc. and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1999; paperback.
Published to accompany the exhibition "Richard Meier
Architect," organized by Richard Koshalek and Dana Hunt. Fifteen illustrations
of drawings and diagrams plus sixteen photographs of the Center, all
black-white. In his essay "Richard Meier's Working Space: The Uses
of Abstraction," Stan Allen provides a perceptive reading of Meier's
design and the function of his sketches in the design process. "These
aspects are neither purely programmatic interventions not purely formal
devices. Each is a calibration of event, behavior, and potential in
relation to the formal configurations of spaces and objects. The simultaneous
articulation of social, programmatic, technical, and formal variables
that constitutes architectural design at its highest level is only
possible by way of a complex and highly developed notational language.
By this I mean that Meier's drawings--plans, sketches, and working
drawings--are not simply reduced pictures of the proposed architecture,
scalar analogs that serve to visualize or predict the experience of
the architecture, but instead are highly abstract notational scores
that, like traditional musical notation, condense massive amounts
of information--both visual and nonvisual--into a codified language
of symbols." In a shorter essay, "Creative Repetition," Jean-Louis
Cohen raises a few specific objections: "Problems emerge however,
for instance with the use of travertine. Pleasant and logical as a
rough epiderm in the lower parts of the structures, the Roman stone
is more embarrassing used on large wall surfaces and vertical edges
and on square pillars, as it soon appears as mere wrapping."
Richard Meier Architect: 1992/1999. Essays
with brief comments on the Getty by Kenneth Frampton and Joseph Rykwert.
New York: Rizzoli, 1999. "The Getty Center," pp.314-405.
Eighty outstanding professional color
photographs, the largest number in any publication. These include
fifteen extraordinary double page spreads, 9 1/2 x 19 1/2 inch, photographed
by Scott Frances, Esto Photographics, many providing panoramic
views not available elsewhere. Two excellent aerial photos
of the entire Center. The two introductory essays provide only brief
summaries of the Getty architecture.
Rountree, Stephen D., "A concert of wills," in Harold
M. Williams et. al., Making architecture: The Getty Center. Los
Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1997; paperback. Pp. 25-31.
A detailed account of the design and construction process
by the overall Project Director in charge of the building program.
Rountree describes several of the conflicts of professional opinion
that required "a patient, if painful, airing and examination of options."
He concludes that "In the end, seemingly distinct components of the
campus have, I believe, been pulled together by a strong, consistent
formal vocabulary, a unity in the materials, and a subtle composition
of elements referencing and playing off each other."
Seeing the Getty Center: a souvenir book. Text Jeffrey
Hirsch; photographs by Cindy Anderson, Tom Bonner, Scott Frances/Esto,
Vladimir Lange, and Alexander Vertikoff. Los Angeles: Getty Trust, c.1998.
Although small format, this souvenir book includes several
outstanding panoramas and a number of informative details. Text and
images are effectively coordinated.
Walsh, John and Deborah Gribbon. The J. Paul Getty
Museum and its collections: a museum for the new century. Los Angeles:
The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997; hardback and paperback.
This volume provides a comprehensive review of the history
of the J. Paul Museum, its buildings and collections. Only a portion
is devoted to the architecture of the new Museum. The nineteen illustrations
of the new Museum and Getty Center were the only representative group
of images of the Museum published before the opening, most notably
including twelve high quality photographs of the galleries, interior
passages and exterior museum terraces. For the exterior, there are
two double page spreads, one unfortunately fuzzy, and the most informative
aerial view of the building complex. Regarding text, Chapter VI provides
the clearest brief description of the overall design process for the
Center and the authoritative account of the concept
and design process for the Museum and the character and layout of
its galleries and pavilions.
Williams, Harold M., Bill Lacy, Stephen D. Roundtree,
and Richard Meier. The Getty Center design process. Los Angeles:
The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1991.
This is the most comprehensive publication
of early diagrams, plans, elevations, perspective and axonometric
drawings, and of early models. Other previously unpublished
material includes nine aerial photos of the site before and during
early stages of construction and two panoramic photographs. The text
consists of an introduction by Harold Williams, brief accounts of
"The Architect Selection and Design Advisory Committees" by Bill Lacy,
and of "The Architectural Program" by Stephen Roundtree, followed
by a five page account of "The Design Process" by Richard Meier, a
superb exposition of the his design philosophy in response to the
Getty Center site and program. "Excerpts from the Architectural Program"
and lists of program and projects staffs and consultants are given
at the back.
Description, cover photo, and ordering information on
the Getty Trust web site at http://www.getty.edu/publications/titles/getctr/index.html.
Williams, Harold M., Ada Louise Huxtable, Stephen
D. Roundtree, and Richard Meier. Making architecture: The Getty Center.
Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1997; paperback.
This official publication contains by far the most informative
body of illustrations of the Center in its nearly completed form.
The photographs themselves are of exceptional professional quality,
finely reproduced. There are fifty-nine color illustrations of the
Center just before the Dec. 1997 public opening, no fewer than six
of which are glorious two-page panoramas (plus a not so good three
page color fold-out taken during construction). In addition, there
are many black-white construction photos, large and small, and four
series of aerial photos taken from four different angles over a period
of year. The perfect cleanliness of most of the color photographs
and their absolute orderliness, though in keeping with the design
aesthetic, may appear a bit unreal to some viewers. This is the first
publication to provide ground plans of the site and individual buildings
in their final form. The text consists of an essay, "The Clash of
Symbols" by Ada Louise Huxtable; report on the design and construction
process, "A Concert of Wills," by Stephen D. Roundtree; and "A Vision
of Permanence," by Richard Meier. This last is the most useful, very
brief, first-read for anyone beginning to explore the rationale, design
process and solutions for this masterful design.
Description, cover photo, and ordering information on
the Getty Trust web site at http://www.getty.edu/publications/titles/makearch/index.html.
of the Architecture and Landscaping
Berger/Abam Engineers Inc.
A web site for the company that designed the elevated
guideway for the tram. Includes one small view of part of the tramway.
The "2750-foot-long", "15-foot-wide, single-lane . . . guideway was
constructed from" "134 individual precast concrete pieces" and a "precision
cast-in-place flying surface for the air-cushioned vehicles." It "follows
an average 7 percent incline.."
Deal, Joe; Mark Johnston, Richard Meier, and Weston
Naef. Between Nature and Culture: Photographs of the Getty Center
by Joe Deal. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Musem, 1999.
Reproduces some one-hundred-twenty
of a portfolio of one-hundred-sixty-two photograph taken by Joe Deal,
the major photographer of landscapes and their cultural transformation.
The photographs were taken between 1984 and 1997 in two phases, the
first group previous to construction, the second group during the
construction process. In his four page essay and separate comments,
Deal describes the photographs as both documentation and interpretation.
The book includes essays on the photograph by Weston Naef and Mark
Doehne, Eric. "Travertine stone at the Getty Center,"
in Conservation, the GIC Newsletter, vol. 11, no. 2 (Summer 1996). Also
available on the www, with the illustrations in color, at the Getty
Conservation Institute site:
Authoritative description of the Getty travertine by
a geologist, an Associate Scientist with the Getty Conservation Institute's
scientific program. Doehne describes the natural process by which
travertine is formed and how this affects its physical character and
appearance. He describe the process by which the travertine is quarried
and split by an automated guillotine "along its natural bedding plane."
Among other things, Doehne notes that "each stone block at the Getty
Center has been treated with a silicon-based water repellent that
is expected to ease cleaning. Paving stone and walls in public areas
up to a height of 2.1 meters have also been treated with an oil-resistant
coating to reduce soiling. . . . Over time, the honey color of the
fresh travertine on the Getty Center will change as the stone weathers
and a natural patina forms."
Philip, Hunter Drohojowska. Photographs by Alex Vertikoff.
"The Getty Center decorative arts galleries: Thierry W. Despont's classical
spaces in Los Angeles' modernist museum," Architectural Digest,
vol. 54, no. 12 (December 1997), pp. 64, 66, 68, 70, 72, 74 and 76.
The most detailed description of the decorative arts
rooms at the J. Paul Getty Museum and of the rationale for their design.
According to Despont "The galleries were treated in a decorative sense
similarly to the grand houses of the period . . . at the same time,
the intent was not to do any fake, historically accurate rooms." "We
have lost an understanding of the strength of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
decoration because we have a vision of it as seen through the eyes
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." Excellent photographs
of five of the rooms, plus a few details.
"a primer on plantings," g: for getty staff
(Fall 1997 supplement), pp. 1-4.
Based partly on an interview with Dennis Hickok, site
architect for Richard Meier, this in-house publication identifies
some of the trees and plants at the Getty Center with rationale for
their choice and position. Fourteen photographs of trees and plants
helpfully located on a diagram of the Center.
Seeing the Getty gardens: a souvenir book.
Ed. Mollie Holtman, text Jeffrey Hirsch. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty
Trust, 1998; paperback
A small picture book with the only large group of printed
images of the important trees, plants and flowers at the Getty Center,
though only a few are identified. The text provides the rational for
many aspects of the landscaping, a significant aspect of the overall
Shuit, Douglas and Daniel Yi. "At the Getty, art
in loo of bathrooms," Los Angeles Times (16 March 1998), p.A1
Describes the design mistake of not providing at the
Museum enough drinking fountains and bathrooms, especially for women.
Simon, Richard. "The art of getting to the Getty
will have visitors floating on air," Los Angeles Times (11 Aug.
1995), pp. B2 ff. Also available for a fee at the Los Angeles Times
Archives site: http://www.latimes.com/archives/.
Informative, detailed description of the innovative
Getty tram system, which "operate[s] like a horizontal elevator."
"A steel cable carries two trams of three cars each along a guideway.
. . . Instead of wheels, the trams glide on a . . . thin film of air,
about the thickness of a sheet of paper." "The Getty trams are synchronized
but operate independently of each other by computer. There is no driver."
Smaus, Robert. "A gardener's Getty," Los Angeles
Times (14 Dec. 1997), p. K-1, K-2. Available for a fee at the Los
Angeles Times Archives site: http://www.latimes.com/archives/.
Only two pages but an indispensable article, the most
detailed and only publicly available publication providing identifications
for many of the trees and plants with their locations. Through interviews
with landscape architect Laurie Olin, tree provider and expert Mike
Poteet, landscape manager and expert Kelly Duke, Getty director of
construction and facilities Curt Williams, and Getty manager of grounds
and gardens Richard Naranjos, Smaus is able to report on the rationale
for much of the landscape design and plant choices.
Sterngold, James. "Avalanche of visitors fluster
new museum," New York Times (2 April 1998), pp. B1, B10.
Accurate account of practical aspects of the design
that proved inadequate when the Getty Center was swamped with visitors
during the first few months after opening: "almost no room for the
buses and taxis to stop and disgorge passengers, or for the entry
queues that form" and inadequate number of restroom stalls, especially
for women, in the Museum.
Sterngold, James. "The Getty sites that might have
been," New York Times (16 Dec. 1997), p. B8.
Only a sidebar but the most informative account of the
decision of the Getty Trust to locate the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
No discussion of the site choice within Los Angeles.
Weber, Jonathan. "Center pushes high-tech envelope,"
Los Angeles Times (8 Dec. 1997), pp. A-1ff. Also available for
a fee at the Los Angeles Times Archives site: http://www.latimes.com/archives/.
Outstanding, detailed description of various high tech
features of the Getty Center, including the tram, skylight louver
and climate control systems for the galleries, center-wide computer
network, and Art Access computer system in the Museum. Excellent diagrams
of a typical paintings gallery and of the tram's cable system and
a typical tram car.
Weschler, Lawrence. "When fountainheads collide:
Robert Irwin and Richard Meier tangle over the Getty Center's garden,"
The New Yorker (8 Dec. 1997), pp. 60-61, 64-70.
The first half of the article conveys some of Meier's
rationale for landscaping at the Getty Center and relationship of
Irwin's garden sculpture to the overall design of the Getty Center.
For an understanding of Irwin and the Getty's "Central Garden" (not
included in this bibliography) this is by far the best researched,
Bonetti, David. "Triumph of the will," San Francisco
Examiner Magazine, a section of the Sunday Examiner & Chronicle
(7 Dec. 19970, cover and pp. 18-19, 21-22, 24, 36, and 38.
Unusual in taking a balanced long-term view of the Getty
Trust mission, choice of architect, and architectural character of
the Museum and overall design. Concludes that the "Getty Center is
as brilliant and satisfying an executed architectural conception as
any of us are ever likely to experience at such a colossal scale in
Filler, Martin. "The big rock candy mountain,"
New York Review of Books, vol. xliv, no. 20 (18 Dec. 1997), pp.
Claims that the Getty has no "internal coherence" and
that its buildings are "frantically overdesigned." Concludes that
"overall the museum is the best part of the Getty complex. Most of
the rest feels uncomfortably like the command post of a multinational
conglomerate." Joins many reviewers in criticizing Thierry Despont's
designs for the decorative art galleries as "bizarrely at odds with
Meier's architectural setting" but praises Despont's role in the picture
galleries where his "colors . . . of fabric and paint generally show
off the paintings to good advantage." One of the few reviews to point
out that Meier's previous two museum designs, the High Museum in Atlanta
and the Frankfurt Museum, "do not serve either paintings or the decorative
arts very well." Notes in passing what some consider the major challenge
posed by the choice of site and architect: "it is doubtful that many
communities in the multiethnic city will see the museum as welcoming
or it's architecture as inviting."
Fuller, Martin. "The Getty Gets Ready," Architecture,
vol. 85, no. 2 (February 1996), pp. 80-87.
Fuller calls into question the choice of site on several
grounds. He writes that "the land may . . . be an ecological time bomb,
prone to all the region's notorious natural disasters," and that "the
site is further problematic in symbolic terms. The Getty Center's aloof,
yet highly visible, remove from the city prompts the feeling that this
is an unapproachable redoubt of high culutre. . . unlikely to attract
many segments of Southern California's rapidly growing multicultural
communities." He also wonders "how well the Getty's narrow, curving
access roads would function during a major emergency." Fuller notes
that "the overpowering, monolithic effect presented by the Getty on
approach is quite the opposite of the expansive feeling the ensemble
imparts once one reaches the central plaza at the top of the hill,"
and he applauds the choice and installation of the warm-toned, rough-hewn
Italian travertine. The articles includes two unique double-page color
panoramas of the partially completed Center, taken in 1995, and a full-page
color photograph of the final wooden model.
Forgey, Benjamin. "Getty's big address: a grand museum
opens on a Los Angeles hilltop," Washington Post (14 Dec. 1997),
pp. G1, 4 ff.
One of the most thoughtful and in-depth
reviews of the architecture, including various descriptions
and observations not published elsewhere. "In his site plan. . . Meier
. . . rang[ed] the more public buildings--the multi-pavilioned museum,
in particular--along one parallel set of lines and the less public
areas, such as offices and laboratories, along the other set." "Not
the least of its advantages, in a city of fabulous but mostly private
views, are the exhilarating vistas." "Despite the disadvantage of
having to build many of the offices, laboratories and service spaces
underground, Meier ingeniously managed to give most of them access
to natural light and landscaped open areas--the working environments
are not lavish, but . . . above all are thoughtful and humane. (An
exception on all counts is the system of dreary subterranean corridors
that link the spread-out buildings; they could be below deck on an
aircraft carrier.)" "Meier had a steel trellis next to the restaurant
painted a pale but incongruous shade of purple in tribute to James
Stirling, the late English architect. Stirling was a friend . . .and
also a finalist who lost out to Meier for the Getty job, and he used
such colors--more loudly--in his own notable buildings."
Forgey's overall judgment is carefully gauged. "the
distant view from the Santa Monica Freeway is not all that promising.
The large, light-colored modern buildings do not so much grace the
hill as occupy it--this could be a giant corporate headquarters (and,
in a way, it is). But the closer you get, the better it looks, and
once you have attained the top of the hill, the campus opens itself
up in a most entrancing fashion." "Overall, a certain harmony prevails.
Architecture and nature, inside and outside, light and shadow coexist
in a balance that seems right. Plantings and fountains act as strong
counterpoints to powerful forms, broad plazas, quiet nooks, impressive
ceremonial stairwells, narrow passageways, superb galleries, countless
terraces with astonishing views. Simply put, Meier's hilltop campus
under the California sun is a wonderful place." "Now that the hour
has arrived, most of the criticism seems overagitated or irrelevant."
Gillette, Jane Brown. Photographs by Tim Rue. "Western
Civ," Landscape Architecture (Dec. 1997), pp. 55-61, 72
Identifies many of the landscape experts who participated
in the design and realization of the Getty landscape. Reproduces two
pages of sketches by Laurie Olin and several excellent, large scale
photographs. "Meier has created a complex composed of frames and windows
that borrow the scenery of the site: the ocean, the freeway, Los Angeles,
and what amounts to garden rooms rising from on-structure planters.
Just so, the ancient Greeks took their psychological bearings from
the mountains and sea, then located their towns and temples in the
spaces where nature and mind met. By invoking their achievement Meier
at once points to the origins of the Western tradition in humanity's
understanding of its relationship to nature. And he reminds us that
one of the greatest achievements of the tradition is this sort of
Giriani, Henri E., "Richard Meier's Getty Center,"
in Richard Meier, Richard Meier: The Getty Center. Ed. Toshio
Nakamura. A+U (Architecture and Urbanism) special issue (Nov. 1992);
A glowing tribute to Meier's resolution of the complex
challenges posed by the design of the Getty Center, "because he possesses
a very strong sense of purpose as an architect." "The whole generates
a very strong, stable, noble, public image." Girianai, a practicing
architect and Professor of architecture, notes that "Exterior space
is used as a material which is submitted to the same laws as a building,
like collages where different materials combine in a unique operative
Goldberger, Paul. "The people's Getty: how the city
on a hill became a magnet for the masses," The New Yorker.
Goldberger writes: "As a work of architecture, the
Getty complex possesses all of Meier's strengths and a few significant
weaknesses." "The rotunda at the entrance to the museum may be the
finest interpretation of a classical rotunda in modernist garb ever
built anywhere, and the long open courtyard within the museum turns
out to be livelier, more serene, and grander as urban space than the
piazza surrounding the tram stop. The galleries are excellent, with
superbly controlled natural light, and Meier has organized them in
a rhythm that allows frequent breaks onto outdoor terraces." "The
Getty Research Institute. . . is one of his finest works ever: an
exquisite circular building that melds geometric grace with precision
of form. In other hands, modernism can feel industrial: Meier makes
it breathtakingly lyrical. Still, one feels frustrated because the
over-all effect of the Getty is so corporate and its tone so even."
"Whatever the Getty's ultimate contribution to culture, it has already
accomplished something that was always thought impossible: to get
Angelenos to use alternative forms of transportation." "The planners
of the Getty Center . . .did not intend their work to be the latest
addition to . . . alluring fantasy environments, but that is what
it has become."
Gragg, Randy. "The future on the hill," Oregonian
(14 Dec. 1997), D1, 4.
Gragg writes: "From politicians to urbanists, many
in Los Angeles--a city seemingly in perpetual search of a reason for
being--hoped the trust would locate downtown, further contributing
to the effort to create a center for this sprawling megalopolis. The
Getty, in a move that Angelinos frequently have interpreted as arrogance,
declined. But from a distance the museum's decision seems only like
astute planing: The Getty recognized the city for what it is rather
than what it wishes it could be. The Trust bought a virgin, 240-acre
ridge . . . a comparatively safe seismic zone situated at what a mega-mall
developer might call a "1,000-percent corner"--between the crossroad
of three of the region's busiest freeways. . . ." "The design's success
comes in isolate moments. . . . Stumbling on a captivating tree, a
meadow or an overlook, for instance, while taking a meandering hike.
But the design's failure is in the absence of any overarching image
or sense of center." "One building transcends these problems: the
brilliantly conceived Getty Research Center, the only building in
which the actual program was truly formulated in concert with the
design." "The heady mix of unquestioned power, packaged in disappointment,
makes [the Getty Center] a perfect culmination to the American Century."
Gunts, Edward. 'Built to last in the land of facades,"
Baltimore Sun (15 Dec. 1997), pp. 1A, 19A.
Almost the only review to note that "Employees say the
new setting is a wonderful work environment: some pause daily to watch
the sunset from one of the many terrace or balconies."
Hughes, Robert. "Bravo! Bravo! On a hill in Los
Angeles and by a river in Spain, two leading architects unveil grandly
innovative knockout buildings that climax the age of the Americna museum
expansion," Time, v. 150, n. 18 (3 Nove. 1997), p. 98.
A brief review concluding that the Getty is "a superb
piece of place making. . . both amiable and Utopian, dignified but
. . . not authoritarian: a respite from the visual chaos of Los Angeles,
but offering the best views a public could have of the city below."
Huxtable, Ada Louise, "The Clash of Symbols," in
Harold M. Williams et. al., Making architecture: The Getty Center.
Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1997; paperback. Pp. 19-23.
Only a few important comments on specific aspects of
the architecture: "the main entrance area became a large, paved platform,
because a strategic place was needed for fire trucks to turn around;
this was translated into an Arrival Plaza that also serves as a primary
social space and a location for special activities." Most of the article
reads like a defense of high art. Huxtable concludes that architecture
is supposed to "serve, support, and delight and, at its very best,
awaken and elevate the sensibilities and dignity the sense of self."
In this she argues that the Getty succeeds.
Jacobs, Karrie. "Fleshing out the Getty," Los
Angeles Times (25 Aug. 1996), p.5.
Jacobs joins other reviewers in objecting to the hiring
of interior designer Thierry Dupont to work with Meier in selecting
colors and materials for the interiors for the museum galleries.
Kamin, Blair. "An art acropolis," Chicago Tribune
(7 Dec. 1997), pp. 1, 16 ff.
Kamin writes: "What ultimately defeats the critics .
. . is Meier's architecture, which proves to be both elegant and populist.
At first glance, it may seem monastic, even clinical, but actually
the design is nothing if not sensual, delighting and surprising with
its richly layered spaces and exquisitely framed views. . . . His
Getty is not about motion. It is about contemplation. . . . What sets
apart the Getty . . . is not its buildings, but the spaces in between
them and the way they relate to each other and to the landscape. .
. . This blend of a traditional European sense of permanence and a
breezy California informality works well at the museum. . . . How
does it measure up to Frank Gehry's new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao,
Spain? As an urban experience, the Getty dazzles. As architecture,
it cannot compare with the Guggenheim. . . . The Getty, in contrast,
does not expand our vision of what an art museum can be. Nor does
it seamlessly synchronize the museum and the art it houses. What it
does do is give Los Angeles an alluring treasure house of art and
an exemplary, breathtaking public space."
Kimmelman, Michael. "The new Getty, dream and symbol,"
New York Times (16 Dec. 1997), pp. B1, 8.
Kimmelman writes: "What people will see as the Getty
Museum . . . finally opens here, is one of the finest 'new' Museums
to come into existence in the last quarter of the century." "the new
museum building is tailored to the collection in its present state,
with little room for expansion." "the center's spectacular but rather
vexing hilltop site . . . does not allow for significant change or
growth." "I can still imagine that the center might become a destination
of enduring popular appeal. . . . Certainly, what Mr. Meier has built
epitomizes the late 20th century's elevation of the secular art museum
to the architectural status that churches used to have as public symbols."
"Most of the galleries are stunning . . . though I do find a few of
the rooms oddly proportioned and the whole elaborate layout a little
Knight, Christopher. "Modernist delivers the unimaginable,"
Los Angeles Times (2 Dec. 1997), pp. A-1 ff.
Knight writes: "Both of Meier's previous museums are
dreadful places to look at art. Their galleries, rigorous and demanding
to a fault, are awful." "How, I marveled, could a search committee
composed of distinguished professionals have visited those terrible
exhibition rooms, so blatantly dismissive of art, and collectively
decided, "Aha! This is the architect we need to design our new museum'?"
Knight then enthusiastically describes many aspects of the galleries
at the new Getty Museum and asks: "How did such an agreeable outcome
happen . . . ? Credit the client. Regardless of a designer's talent,
architectural commissions can flounder at the client level. But not
here; the hero of this story is John Walsh. He is one museum director
who knew exactly the experience he wanted his new building to provide.
Working with skillful designers, he got it."
Lewis, Michael J. "How bad is the Getty?", Commentary,
vol. 105, no. 3 (March 1998), pp. 64-68.
The conclusion provides the most convincing description
of the pervasive reservation many have about the choice of the Getty's
site. "Without exception, the great museums of the world have been
tied to a physical place, inevitably a city. . . built and sustained
by patrons whose lives have been played out in the surrounding physical
precints. But in recent years our financial and commercial institutions
have moved to suburban office parks, and with the change of venue
has come a loss of interest in urban affairs. It is an open question
how the modern art museum will change when its physical relationship
to the city--and thus also to the community of artists-- is severed."
Much of the rest of Lewis's review reads like an attempt
to upstage other critics: "the Getty is worse, and worse in more ways,
than even its critics have said." Lewis states that "the entire travertine
cladding has no more impact on the Getty's essential character than
a paint job" and that "Seldom has so much expensive material been
used to less effect. But the real problem with Meier's work is . .
. overall coherence and order. The visitor arriving in the Getty tram
steps into a disorienting world. The buildings jostle across the site
in a relentlessly rambling geometry. . . . " "what the Getty misses
is a sense of inevitability, the feeling that no architectural part
could be moved without somehow worsening the whole." "With Meier's
collage method, any of the arbitrary angles might be changed, many
of them for the better, and the sense is of a Rubik's cube whose parts
have been caught in a snapshot but which will continue to rotate,
endlessly and unhappily, in search of some distant but permanently
Lewis claims that "The only resolved passage of the
whole ensemble is the museum," but does not explain. Instead, Lewis
goes on to criticize the layout for not forming a grand monumental
axis like the great lawn at the University of Virginia: "Meier seems
to have gone out of his way to thwart this. His separate pavilions
are a jumble, and the main view, which might have been a heroic procession,
is blocked by a centrally-placed support on the rotunda precisely
where a visitor might most advantageously place himself."
Litt, Steven. "Getty Center not quite a masterpiece",
Cleveland Plain Dealer (14 Dec. 1997), pp. 1-1, 3-1.
Litt writes: "The Getty comes close to being a masterpiece.
But it never coheres in a single, strong, memorable image. There is
no vantage where visitors can stand and say: 'Now I get it. Now it
snaps into focus.'" "The Getty is an accumulation of great moments.
But it lacks the liberating excitement of the Guggenheim Museum in
Bilbao, Spain. . . a creative breakthrough. . . . The Getty, in contrast,
feels like an attempt to refine and synthesize a monumental modernism
that could guide the country into the next century. . . ." "Moving
to the heights of Brentwood was brilliant, because the setting allows
every visitor to rise above the heat, noise and traffic of the city
and to concentrate on great art. It is, as museum director John Walsh
puts it, 'a democratic villa.' "
Minetti, Maria Giulia. Photographs by Stephane Compoint.
"l'Acropoli della California," Specchio, no. 106 (31 Jan. 1998),
pp. 54-58 ff.
A refreshingly poetic, Mediterranean, response to a
type of architecture with which Italians are deeply familiar, Americans
hardly at all. Minetti writes (English translation by Eric Wilson):
"Reading the reviews devoted to the new Getty Center . . will not
clarify thing for you, but it will convince you of one thing: it's
worth going there." "The pleasure that is felt in coming up to the
Getty Center and walking among the buildings derives to a very large
degree from the perception of its 'organic unity'; of its articulate
nature. The sense of being inside a citadel makes the experience very
rich, just as when you take a walk in a real city and, even though
you don't go inside the houses, or don't visit all the monuments you
still sense the activity, the pulse. But the pulse of the Getty has
an ideal beat profoundly different even from that of a university
campus, which is what it resembles most. And this is because it's
laid out just like an ideal place, like a splendid utopia come true,
and it has the luminosity of a utopia, the empyrean setting and the
metaphorical quality that take on through it's dominant position,
isolated and yet open to welcome everyone who goes up there." "Meier's
creative stamp is in having extended the vast panoramic view from
the hilltop--the view out over the endless city as far as the ocean
and, on the other side, as far as the snow-covered Sierras--to inside
the structure of his buildings, where the air flows among slender
columns, tree-lined plaza, flights of stairs that fling themselves
at the buildings like light climbing plants, Japanese-style pools
of water strewn with large local rocks, and in the course of the day
the air takes on a hue and tints the architecture with the delicate
color of the sky until the final kindling of the sunset, with an inexpressible
chromatic intensity." "A City invisible from below, but clearly perceptible
from above, when the visitor, brought up to the terraces of Meier's
small city, has the feeling of finally being able to unify the scattered
city below, not unlike a feudal lord who controls his dominions from
the tower of his castle. Then you take the train, go back down the
hill, the smoke from the cars on the Freeway swallows you up, and
any horizon is once again lost."
Muchamp, Herbert. "A Mountaintop temple where art's
future worships its past," New York Times (1 Dec. 1997), pp.
A wonderfully astute piece of writing, welcoming "criticism
of the Getty . . . as one of its major contributions to the city's
cultural ecology." Muchamp criticizes the landscaping as falling "far
short of Mr. Meier's aim to integrate architecture and nature. Domination,
not integration is the impression here." He also coins an astute phrase
when he writes: "Above all, Mr. Meier and Michael J. Palladino, the
project's architect, had to deal with a fabulous sore thumb of
a site [my italics]." "When you're up there, the site is glorious
but, from beneath, the complex casts a medieval shadow. We're above
criticism, the Getty seems to announce; we're up too high to hear
it. And anyhow, whoever likes the people who live in the fancy house
on the hill." But Muchamp describes much of the architecture in glowing
terms: "what Mr. Meier has created here is a symphonic set of variations
on the classical elements of 20th-century structure. Rotation. Rhythm.
The interplay between solid and void, transparency and opacity, curved
and orthogonal forms. The cantilever. The module. The grid. The Getty
Center is a summation, and a masterly one." In a type of comment largely
missing from architectural journalism, Muchamp observes: "It's not
so easy to enter into the life of the mind, but the Getty offers a
thoughtful preparation. Even before you go into the galleries, the
abstract quality of the architecture has inducted you into the world
Ouroussoff, Nicolai. "Realizing a utopian goal in
center that doesn't cohere," Los Angeles Times (1 Dec. 1997),
pp. A1 ff.
Ouroussoff writes: "the center is not so much woven
into the landscape as perched on top of it." "Although these public
areas are thoughtfully balanced, the complex as a whole does not cohere."
"Is the problem with Meier's architecture or with the attempt to make
coherent the identity of the Getty as a whole? Do these institutions
belong together? . . . Its architecture lays bare its own internal
contradictions. Most visitors, however, will ignore the buildings
that don't concern them and head straight for the museum. There, Meier's
design is an undeniable success."
Ouroussoff, Nicolai. "Shining city on a hill," Los
Angeles Times Magazine: Special Issue: The New Getty (7 Dec. 1997),
pp. 22 ff.
Compares the accessibility of the J. Paul Getty Museum
with that of other American museums, which have increasingly been
located in downtown locations with storefront entries. Also contrasts
the Getty's "sense of pilgrimage, as if you have left behind the world
of everyday pettiness and struggles" with recent French examples at
the Louvre and Bibliotheque Nationale. Excellent aerial photograph
of main building complex of Getty Center.
Perl, Jed. "Acropolis now," New Republic
(26 Jan. 1998), pp. 25-31.
Much of this long article constitutes an almost unrelieved
sequence of negative responses to Meier and the Getty Center architecture:
"Meier is unable to conceive of large spaces in terms of the experience
of the people who are moving through them," "Meier's grids and circles
and skylights are nothing but two-dimensional drawing-board concepts,"
"Meier's spaces have no flow," "Meier's buildings are a case of lofty
architectural ambitions run amok," "the profiles of many of the buildings
are so complicated that they fight the landscape," "the arrangement
of the Getty collections in virtually free-standing pavilions creates
a confused, stop-and-start museum going experience," "the courtyard
at the heart of the museum is bleak," "you are confronted with such
a labyrinth of staircases and plazas and balconies and parapets that
you may not have the slightest idea where earth ends and architecture
begins," "this colossal failure of architectural vision."
Reese, Thomas F. "La politica architettonica del
Getty Center for the Arts / The Architectural Politics of the Getty
Center for the Arts," in Lotus 85. Milano: Electra, 1995. Pp.
The photos, which include several not otherwise available,
are unfortunately reproduced quite small. Few illustrate the original
insights in the text. The text, by the former Associate Director of
the Getty Research Institute, is one of the only
texts to explore deeply the formal order of the architectural design,
including a brief description of the complex vertical layering. He
notes that "many buildings . . . extend as many as three stories below
the 860' datum . . . which establishes the ground plane." Among Reese's
many unique observations are that, in the Museum, "another general
compositional rule is that at least one of the nine units rises like
a cortile through both floors of a pavilion to achieve vertical integration
and circulation." Reese claims that the Research Institute "most fully
expresses the architectural qualities that Meier has pursued in his
practice and for which he is know--a crystalline tectonic clarity,
made possible through steel, reinforced concrete, and glass construction,
which dynamically expresses innovative functional planning." Reese
provides a detailed pro and con examination of the Museum design,
including aspect in which Meier was forced to compromise "fundamental
principles upon which rest his modernist commitment to tectonic expression
and to values of 'materiality' and 'surface' over 'illusion' and 'decoration.'"
Skelley, Jack. "Is it really "Your" Getty?: Architects
and planners chide new aloof acropolis," Downtown News (15 Dec.
The most outspoken review condeming the decision of
the Getty trustees to locate on the Brentwood hilltop instead of in
downtown Los Angeles. A local architectural critic is quoted as saying
"I find the temple-on-the-hill-thing pompous, preposterous and pretentious
beyond all belief. The desperately over-reaching ambition in this
obscenely overpriced, over-designed and over-hyped project suggests
a kind of arriviste insecurity in this adolescent institution." More
thoughtfully, a local architect writes: "A lot of us were deeply disappointed
the Getty chose toplace themsleves as this remopte acropolis separated
fropm the city. We all believed the Getty could have infused an extraordinary
energy into Downtown L.A. bymaking an alternatyive choice." An alternative
view is presented by another local architect: "The Getty serves fundamentally
as an oasis from the city hich is incrasingly congested, It's a place
in the middle of the city where you can get away from the city. That
is something that occurs in other great cities."
Vidler, Anthony. "Architecture as spectacle,"
Los Angeles Times (3 May 1998), pp. M1 and M 6.
A review grounded in an understanding of architectural
history as well as contemporary society. "The Getty has created something
far more than a museum: It has constructed a public pedestrian 'objective,'
a cultural acropolis that does not exclude the citizen, a space of
the kind rarely found in contemporary U.S. cities. A space and a public
do not of themselves fulfill all the criteria traditionally ascribed
to the public realm: Social interaction, political activity and cultural
festivity all form part of what was once desired in an urban democracy.
It is symptomatic of our era that a public is there, nonetheless,
paying attention to buildings in a way not seen since the mid-19th
century." "the public simply enjoys the spectacle of space itself,
internally in the complex structures and light-filled forms of the
galleries, externally in the play between objects and site. It is
as if the deeply personal experience of light and form recounted by
Le Corbusier on his first visit to the Acropolis has been rendered
accessible to a wider public; as if, indeed, the values promulgated
by the first generation of modernists have been assimilated and are
now generalized in a way that allows a nonprofessional audience to
participate in the 'performance' of architecture." Vidler is also
one of the few to note that "Meier's work at the Getty . . . does
not give itself over to easy looking, in the sense of 'easy listening.'
Indeed, its complex structures and spatial abstractions call for an
attentive and close reading." Unfortunately, his article provides
none of this.
Weschler, Lawrence. "Before the bulldozers," Los
Angeles Times Magazine: Special Issue: The New Getty (7 Dec. 1997),
pp. 73-74, 80-83.
A first-hand account by a staff writer at The New
Yorker who grew up in Los Angeles and for many years walked the
dirt trails and enjoyed the awe-inspiring vistas from the current
Getty site. The essay records his dismay at the loss of his "exquisite,
exclusive retreat", then at the emergence of "this awkwardly looming
. . . monolithically squat behemoth." Upon visiting the Center, he
writes that he first "hated the blindingly white, antiseptically modern
arrival plaza" and that, on site, the Center seemed "no more succinctly
defined, as a single entity," than it had from below. However, Weschler
describes how "as the hours of my visit stretched on, such querulous
mutterings seemed to fall by the wayside, because--you know what?
the place is really just flat-out wonderful." Weschler then shares
some of the most perceptive responses yet published to the nature
of Meier's framed views, character of the travertine, and progression
through the museum.
Whiteson, Leon. "Critique: man, nature and the Getty:
hilltop center gracefully unites topography and architecture but appears
awkward from freeway," Los Angeles Times, Home Ed., Real Estate,
Among the early 1990's articles, this is the most perceptive,
in-depth account of the Getty Center design. It is one of the few
articles to mention the extensive, partially underground areas of
the Center: "Buried in the hillside, these subterranean facilities
help reduce the visible impact of the complex both from within the
center and from the outside." Whiteson notes that "the architectural
grace of the center's internal composition does not reveal itself
to passersby. . . . As a consequence, the Getty's architecture lacks
a clear image to offer the outside world." "Meier has succeeded brilliantly
in creating a lucid and powerful presence within the bounds of the
complex itself. But in the face it presents to the city at large,
the center seems crude and out of sympathy with the natural features
of the site." The article describes the design for the ravine between
the Museum and Research Institute before Robert Irwin was commissioned
to design his garden sculpture: "A terraced Italianate garden filled
with trees and small temples falls away down a ravine between the
two main wings of the complex. At the foot of the garden is a colonnaded
loggia that frames the view over Sunset Boulevard."