AD Classics: Getty Center / Richard Meier & Partners Architects

© & Partners Architects and Scott Frances ESTO

The Getty Center occupies a narrow, hilly stretch high above the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles . Jutting southward from the Santa Monica Mountains, the museum’s acropolis-like stature affords spectacular views over the city, the mountains and the ocean.

More on the Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners Architects after the break.

Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects © Scott Frances ESTO

Coined, “the commission of the century”, this $1 billion arts facility began in 1984 with the mandate to advance knowledge and nurture critical seeing through the growth and presentation of its collections and by advancing the understanding and preservation of the world’s artistic heritage. Today the Museum’s permanent collection contains Greek and Roman antiquities, 18th-century French furniture and European paintings, and is visited by more than 1.8 million people a year.

© Wikimedia Commons

Completed in 1997, Richard Meier’s program brings the seven components of the Getty Trust into a coherent unity, while maintaining their individual identities. The layout establishes a dialogue between the angle of intersection and a number of curvilinear forms that are largely derived from the contours of the site inflected by the Freeway, the metropolitan grid and the natural topography; the overall parts relate to both the City of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Axonometric, Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects

The Center covers almost 100,000 square feet of area, and is organized along two ridges in the topography of the 110-acre parcel.

 Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects © Scott Frances ESTO

The Museum acts as the centerpiece and the main entrance to the Center. Stepping off the tram that takes you from the base of the mountain and parking area to the Welcome Center and into the Museum. The entrance lobby has a sun-lit circular foyer, and provides views through the courtyard to gallery structures arrayed in a continuous sequence. Throughout the Museum there is a layering in section between paintings, illuminated by skylights on the top floor and artworks which must be shielded from ultraviolet light on the lower levels.

Entry Level Plan, Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects

The smaller pavilion buildings, connected by gardens, break down the scale of the museum experience allowing for pauses and encouraging interplay between the interior and exterior. Each pavilion cluster has its own atrium with an adjacent stairway and elevator linking the sculpture drawing, manuscript, and photography galleries on the first floor to the paintings and galleries above.

Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects © Scott Frances ESTO

A 450-seat auditorium, west of the Getty Trust offices and the Art History Information Program, terminate the east elevation. The Getty Conservation Institution, The Getty Center for Education, and The Getty Grant Program take advantage of the climate through the use of loggias, pergolas and full-height glazing at the external perimeter. Along the more secluded western ridge, the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities completes the complex.

Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects © Scott Frances ESTO

The Getty Center was the first building to be LEED certified after the standard was established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998. It is a reflection of Richard Meier & Partners design philosophy that innately considers sustainable elements like natural light, circulation and energy saving technologies and materials.

Special thanks to Richard Meier & Partners Architects and Scott Frances ESTO for the images, drawings, data and detailed description of the Getty Center.

Architect: Richard Meier & Partners, Architects LLP
Location: Los Angeles, California
Project Year: 1984-1997
Photographs: Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects © Scott Frances ESTO, and Wikimedia Commons
References: Richard Meier & Partners Architects

This building is part of our Architecture City Guide: Los Angeles. Check all the other buildings on this guide right here.

Cite: Sveiven, Megan. "AD Classics: Getty Center / Richard Meier & Partners Architects" 15 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 Sep 2014. <>


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    Beautiful…. I love the use of curves and of straight lines. They work together so well!!! Such a stunning building, I must visit sometime.

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    I visited this 10, possibly 15, years ago. What I remember: Parking was a major task. You park somewhere down the hill, then eventually take a train up to the museum. My first impression was, OMG, why didn’t I bring my sunglasses?! It was all dazzlingly, blindingly white in the S. Calif. sunlight! As a Meyer design, obviously much of it was good, but: It seemed convoluted in its scattered structures. The actual contents were not particularly memorable–not Meyer’s fault, but the contents are what a museum is supposed to be about, no? I didn’t know the budget was $1 billion (!!!!), nor could I have imagined anything close to that, but, whatever the budget, it struck me that the concept suffered from a lack of financial constraint, hence discipline, within which designers characteristically work. Too big a candy shop can confuse more than liberate one’s thoughts–at least in our times. (Today’s architects aren’t experienced in designing Louvres and Chambords.) Having seen, and greatly appreciated, other structures of Meyer’s, I felt that this, his opus magnum, was far from his best.

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