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The Getty Centre, Los Angeles / Richard Meier & Partners by Ben Robertson Wylie

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

Solidity, contrast, scale, materials and light; these are the design elements which encapsulated the projects architectural character for myself, defining to me the very basis of architecture; creating spaces and environments for humans to inhabit and exist in comfort.

During my visit I felt a distinct sense of being placed within the building, in a way, a separation between one (self) and structure. I felt very small and insignificant within the building, but also that despite this feeling inconsequentiality due to the prowess of the structure, it invited me to inhabit and exist. Moving between each structural element and space, the scale and bold materiality of the project with clean distinct lines, strong definition in contrasting textures meant the feeling of separation translated itself into an appreciation of the intrinsic relationship that exists between humans and our built environment. We create spaces and then inhabit them for one’s own specific needs, using natural and man-made materials to create atmosphere, function and intrigue within these built forms. In contrast to our intrinsic connection with the natural world in which we have evolved, I refer to the ever developing relationship between our natural selves and our manufactured environment.

The overall strength and prowess of the courtyard space created a sense of security and serenity, even when surrounded by many individuals. The travertine stone cladding used throughout, coupled with the structures placement atop the rolling Californian topography overlooking the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, views of which framed in moments throughout the building, created a sense of grandeur and a comparison to the Acropolis of Athens; perhaps an architectural reference to the origins of classical construction and everything we have learnt from it.

The contrasting materiality used throughout sets the project firmly in the modern day whilst offering a throwback to classical construction of the past. Modern aluminium cladding and glass is extensively used, sensitively juxtaposed against the rugged yet refined travertine stone cladding which creates its character of monumentality. It is this monumentality which left me with the feeling of solitary existence alongside the space, as the space defined itself without my being in such a powerful manner.

The space encouraged me to move and explore, to travel throughout its interplaying interior and exterior light filled spaces. The asymmetrical arrangement of structures and materials intrigued the eye, intermittent curves both contrasting and enhancing the regimented geometric pattern smoothing the buildings profile with subtle aplomb. Varying textures of differing and repeating materials created synchronization within the project and a characterisation which is iconic of the Meier’s very recognisable style.

It is within this style of architecture in which I find particular enjoyment and inspiration. I feel that for this geographical setting, and functional program, it works magnificently. It may not be for everyone, clean lines, white, white and more white! As both a design statement and museum housing many great works of art, I felt a complementing link between the form and function of the project; the ever present link which encompasses architectural design. It possessed a definition and declaration of self importance, pronouncing its iconicity; an importance and design profile which means the building itself is a star attraction but should you enter within, houses and expresses its many great pieces with the delicacy and respect of which they are deserved.

Glazing throughout ties together both the monolithic stone clad and modern aluminium covered exterior walls as they interlink in plan and section as if they were a jigsaw. These openings allow natural light to permeate within, highlighting the geometric squares which continue throughout on the clad walls and the polished travertine flooring. These bright high ceilinged interior spaces, so clean in their appearance and atmosphere, evoked a sense of calm and peacefulness, with glimpses afforded out with the serenity of this citadel of the sweeping San Diego freeway and bustling concrete jungle below. As natural light flooded interior halls and stairwells, the exterior courtyards and balconies, smooth clean surfaces augmented the commanding shadows cast by the buildings own geometric configuration. These shadows accentuated the form and character of the project, as the rugged and refined travertine stone squares, alongside the pristine aluminium cladding, reflected both literally and figuratively the quality and nature of the light cast from the sky.

Inhabiting this building filled me with a sense of calm and place. The setting, materials, layout, geometry, light and scale, to name but a few of its designed qualities, worked harmoniously together in creating a building of complexity coupled with an overriding sense of simplicity. These skilfully contrasted qualities defined the space and my enjoyment of it. Using often uncomplicated shapes and geometries, creating an interlinking scheme of complexity through placement and relation of form and texture, the building is sculpture; a piece of sculpture in which I found myself feeling inspired and intrigued. This prompted me to analyse the reasons one may design in a certain way and the many forms of building in which people can find appreciation and comfort.

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