Richard Meier’s Model Museum, Long Island City
Richard Meier’s Model Museum in Long Island City, is a small gallery devoted to the architect’s ongoing love of the physical process of architecture. The 3,600 sq ft warehouse space is dominated by a vast model of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, still one of the architect’s most celebrated and sizeable commissions. Rather than offload the creative output of his model-making studio - overseen by Michael Gruber - the architect has created this small private museum for a whirlwind tour of his oeuvre in miniature. We spoke to Meier about the contents of the museum, and his approach to art, architecture and urban design.
You have projects here that are built and also unrealized. Having them present in one place, what is it like visiting your own work?
I love it here. I love coming and walking around, that’s why we keep it. Also, it’s great for students to come so they can see what’s involved in doing projects at this kind of scale. They come from all over the world and are fascinated. It’s nice to be able to open it up, since we don’t open the office up to tours on a regular basis.
Does it give you a retrospective of your career when you look all these models?
No, I just think, ’There’s a lot of things missing.’ In the back there are lots of old models of different small projects. It’s interesting to me because it gives a kind of remembrance.
Does having the models here encourage new designs?
No. But we have a bin of discarded pieces of models and wood. I started looking at some of these pieces, and I was working on sculpture at the time, and I thought that I would use some of the pieces of wood and cast them and do a collage, as it were, from discarded pieces of models. So, it is kind of reuse of material. These are all cast stainless steel and you can see where the piece - a trellis or window - changes scale. I would use some string to tie the wood together and cast the whole thing.
How do you find the time and energy?
I do the collages on the weekends and when I travel. When it was slow I used to take one day off a week to go to the foundry and cast sculpture, but then we got busy.
What do you think of the fantastically shaped CNC-milled models that people are making today?
Well, it’s different. It expresses what they’re doing. We’re not doing that.
How would you describe what you are doing?
I would say what we’re doing is very open and transparent and related to the particular site and context. Our work has to do not only with how that building functions, but how it creates a public space. I’m very much interested in the public realm and I feel that every project should have, as much as it can, a usefulness to the public outside of the needs of the client. Our designs are modern, open, and hopefully expressive of our time.
In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that your new project, the mixed-use Teachers Village in Newark, New Jersey, is a return to the early part of your career, referring to the public housing project Twin Parks in the Bronx [designed for the Urban Development Corporation of New York State in 1969]. Is the ethos reflected in that design continued in your new work?
Definitely. The Newark project is extremely important for the city of Newark. The good thing about Nicolai’s piece is that it brings Newark into focus in a way that probably many people who read the article didn’t previously understand. The city will be a new place where young people who work in Manhattan live, because it is only a 15-minute commute. As things improve there, hopefully the community will enliven.
And Newark’s your hometown. How does it feel returning there to work?
Well, it’s nice.