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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