Richard Meier’s modern Acropolis


Did Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, explicitly intend to build a modern acropolis?

I’m almost sure that he did. This is the effect his superb architecture has. The museum’s contents–ie the art inside–is fine. But what makes the Getty Center a destination is that it is, well, what the acropolis of Athens would have been for Socrates: a space for civilized humanity. It has great Feng Shui.

Instead of sitting on a hill, the Getty Center, like the acropolis, seems to rise out of, or to be, the hilltop. It blends into its topography and simultaneously defines it. It signals itself to the people below as the obvious place to go up to. To the people already inside, it is a natural, light-filled place to dwell. It keeps you in, makes you reflective and social, encourages you to meander and talk.

It is simple and yet subtle, the equivalent of a Brancusi sculpture or of the kind of writing I like.

The easiest way to know that it is good architecture (= the way to know good writing) is that it does not make you tired. You can walk through the Louvre, for example, and feel all dutiful about being cultured, but within minutes you want to yawn, sit, sleep, escape, open a window. The Getty Center, and all good art in any medium, makes no such demand on you. It says “check your sense of duty at the door and come in: the culture will happen all by itself; you will feel refreshed after.”

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8 thoughts on “Richard Meier’s modern Acropolis

  1. I really like your idea, strolling through the Getty as refreshing due to its giving properties, giving of space for culture and communion with ideas… thanks! I hope life is adjusting well down there.

  2. Thanks, Akire. yes, things are slowly settling down and feeling less chaotic.

    One of these days we might check out that place you recommended, Ojai. (I forget what you recommended it for.)

  3. I’ve sheepishly said that I’d rather go for a three hour run than walk thru the Denver Art Museum for two. Yes, I’m shallow. (I’m not triathlete shallow. I don’t shave anything, or anything.) Walking around the museum makes my back hurt. I went to the Louvre and was repulsed. I took pictures of my Mr. Potato Head with the trash and the pyramid in the background. I’ve always blamed myself. Can I have your permission to blame an architect? Having dissed the Louvre, I should say that we have a Pei building locally and it is truly awesome – in a manner you describe.

    • The I.M. Pei part of the Louvre, ie the pyramid, I actually like. But it’s only the entrance. Once you’re inside the museum part, ie the old Louvre palace, god help you.

      It did occur to me, when I last suffered the place, that the entire place, especially the long hallways, could make great modern gladiatorial venues. Bowling alleys, shooting ranges, driving ranges, children’s demolition derbies.

      Should I propose this to the French? They are sure to be very open-minded about these ideas. No doubt about it.

  4. What you mean to say is that you never tire of good architecture – that good architecture combines western and eastern forms. Am I right, Mr. Kluth? Still, the Getty could benefit from the addition of columns to be a true Acropolis.

  5. Interesting observation to mix in Feng Shui with Meier’s work. I never did understand it before when they say “Any good design IS good Feng Shui” I understand this now having worked on some of his projects and now using Feng Shui into my own design. Any space that tells a story like book, is rare treasure to find. I’ve been to the Getty numerous time and each time it feels like my first time. Always a new experience. and yes I’m yet to go really inside to see the art…I guess that’s on the next chapter (visit)

    Great article!

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