Getty Center: A hilltop village for the culture that combines landscape, art, and architecture into one cultural experience.

In Los Angeles, California, high above the San Diego Motorway, the Getty Centre is located. The museum’s acropolis-like height, which protrudes southward from the Santa Monica Mountains, offers breathtaking views of the city, the mountains, and the ocean.

This arts facility, known as “the Commission of the Century” began operations in 1984 to foster critical thinking and expand knowledge via the development and exhibition of its collections as well as by increasing the study of and preservation of the global artistic heritage. More than 1.8 million people visit the Museum each year, and its permanent collection now includes Greek and Roman artifacts, French furniture from the 18th century, and European masterpieces.

Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet1
Getty Center_© Scott Frances ESTO

The Site

In the Santa Monica Mountains, not far from the San Diego Motorway, the Getty Centre is perched on a hill. From there, tourists can view the diverse features of Los Angeles’ landscape, including the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the extensive city roadway system. Richard Meier, the complex’s architect, was motivated by the interrelationships between these components as he created the building. The modernist structure seems to emerge from the 110-acre hillside when viewed from the south. From a parking lot at street level to the top of the hill, two computer-controlled trams transport tourists. The campus offers framed panoramic views of the city and is constructed of cleft-cut Italian travertine. It is arranged around a central arrival plaza.

  1. Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet2
    Site Plan_© Scott Frances ESTO

    Design Insights

Richard Meier’s program, which was completed in 1997, maintains the seven parts of the Getty Trust’s separate identities while bringing them together into a logical whole. The design creates a dialogue between the angle of intersection and some curvilinear forms that primarily derive from the site’s contours, which are influenced by the motorway, the metropolitan grid, and the topography; the overall components relate to both the City of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains.

  1.1   Planning 

The structures were arranged by Meier along a hilltop’s natural crest. Offices all have natural light, and the auditorium, offices, and galleries are all open to courtyards and terraces. All of the buildings extend underground and are connected by subterranean tunnels that make it easy to move artwork and other materials. This is because the complex is only two floors above grade, as requested by the neighbors.

Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet3
Axonometric_© Scott Frances ESTO

The building offers framed panoramic views of the city and is covered in Italian travertine that has been carved in clefts. Natural gardens and curvilinear design elements soften the grid that the travertine squares generate.

1.2   Seven Components Of Getty Trust

Museum –  The focal point and major entry to the Centre is the Museum. Stepping off the tram that transports you from the parking lot and mountain’s base to the welcome center and the museum. Views of gallery constructions arranged in a continuous series can be seen through the courtyard from the entrance lobby’s circular, sunlit foyer.

Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet4
Entry Level Plan_© Scott Frances ESTO

The paintings on the top floor of the museum, which are lit by skylights, are divided into sections from those on the lower levels, which must be protected from UV light. 

Pavilions – The smaller pavilion structures, connected by gardens, reduce the overwhelming enormity of the museum experience, allowing for breaks and promoting interaction between the inside and outside. Each cluster of pavilions has a separate atrium with a stairway and elevator connecting the sculpture, drawing, manuscript, and photography galleries on the first level to the paintings and galleries on the second. 

Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet5
Interior View_© Scott Frances ESTO

Auditorium – The east elevation is terminated with a 450-seat Auditorium, which is located west of the Getty Trust headquarters and the Art History Information Programme.

The Getty Centre for Education & The Getty Grant Programme – Utilizing loggias, pergolas, and full-height glazing along the exterior perimeter, The Getty Centre for Education, and The Getty Grant Programme make the most of the climate. The complex is completed by the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, which is situated along the more isolated western ridge.

Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet6
North Elevation_© Scott Frances ESTO

Library, Offices, and Additional Galleries – The Getty Research Institute is located in the elongated structure to the west of the Central Garden, and it is mostly utilized by Getty scholars, employees, and visiting researchers. The circular shape alludes to the cycle of scholarly inquiry. To encourage interaction among the students and staff, curved ramps and corridors create rounded paths. A reading room on the ground floor is illuminated by a skylight. Exhibition galleries on the plaza level include items from the Research Institute’s special collections with an emphasis on art history, architecture, and allied disciplines.

The Getty Conservation Institution, The Getty Foundation – The Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the administrative offices of the J. Paul Getty Trust are located in two buildings to the north and east of the Tram Arrival Plaza. For the Getty personnel, indoor and outdoor space can be moved freely, and there are views of Los Angeles provided by sunken gardens, terraces, glass walls, and open floor layouts.

  1. Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet7
    East Elevation_© Scott Frances ESTO

    Materials

Visitors are transported by computer-controlled tram from the street-level parking structure to the top of the hill, where they emerge onto a campus made of Italian travertine and arranged around a main welcome plaza. The grid pattern made by the travertine squares is softened by curved architectural components and several plants.

  2.1   The Travertine 

One of the most amazing aspects of the facility is the stone, which covers 1.2 million square feet. The travertine, which has a rich texture and comes in hues from light beige to honey, reflects the brilliant Southern California light sharply in the morning and warmly in the late afternoon. The 16,000 tonnes of travertine come from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, which is located 15 miles east of Rome. When split along the grain of many of the stones, fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches were exposed. 

Stone was the material of choice for this project because it has traditionally been used in public buildings and embodies characteristics that the Getty Centre values: stability, solidity, simplicity, warmth, and workmanship. Meier and his team spent a year working with the quarries to develop a method for creating a distinctive finish using a guillotine.

  2.2   Aluminum Plates 

40,000 aluminum plates with an enamel coating are off-white. The color was chosen to “complement the colors and texture of the stone,” but more significantly, it was picked “from among fifty minutely varied shades” while the architect negotiated his color design with nearby homeowners’ groups.

  1. Lighting 

The Getty Center’s most crucial structural component is natural light. Sunlight can enter the interiors through the many glass outside walls. The lighting in the house is controlled by a computerized system of louvers and coverings. On the upper level of the museum, the painting galleries are all naturally lighted and equipped with special filters to guard against tampering with priceless pieces.

  1. Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners - Sheet8
    Natural Lighting_© Scott Frances ESTO

    Sustainability

Following the creation of the LEED standard by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998, The Getty Centre became the first structure to get certification. It is a manifestation of Richard Meier & Partners’ design philosophy, which inherently takes sustainability factors like natural light, circulation, and energy-saving technology and materials into account.

Natural Gardens and Curvilinear Design_© Scott Frances ESTO

Conclusion

The Getty Centre is referred to as “a marriage of the austere and the sumptuous,” with Meier’s distinctive “crisp lines and a stark geometry.” The most expensive art institution ever constructed on American soil houses this one-of-a-kind collection of artwork, architecture, and scholarly endeavor. It is Meier’s “culmination of a lifelong effort to hone his version of Modernism to perfection,” according to architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. It represents a significant period in the history of the city and is his greatest municipal achievement.

It reveals everything we require to know about individuals who design and construct the buildings that characterize our cities and our era, as well as much more. It was necessary to constantly revise the concept and design due to zoning constraints, seismic rules, soil conditions, neighborhood concerns, and many other subtle issues. Given the ordered solutions, what would appear to be formalism was an organic process with a beautiful conclusion.

References

  1. Articles

Architectuul. (n.d.). The Getty Center. [online] Available at: https://architectuul.com/architecture/the-getty-center

ArchDaily. (2011). AD Classics: AD Classics: Getty Center / Richard Meier & Partners. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/103964/ad-classics-getty-center-richard-meier-partners-architects.

  1. Online Sources

meierpartners.com. (n.d.). The Getty Center | MeierPartners. [online] Available at: https://meierpartners.com/project/the-getty-center.

Doctor of Arts, U. of A., M. S., L.E., B. A., E., Facebook, F. and Twitter, T. (n.d.). What’s So Special About the Getty Center in Los Angeles? [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/about-the-getty-center-by-richard-meier-177914.

www.getty.edu. (n.d.). Architecture | Getty Center. [online] Available at: https://www.getty.edu/visit/center/top-things-to-do/architecture/.

Author

Architect in practice with a desire for new ideas and a distinct design perspective. A meticulous architect who blogs about her poetic experiences. Always willing to take a chance, whether it's tackling a challenge at work or speaking to a friend, a wanderer at heart who carefully observes how people and environments interact to uncover the essence. A critical thinker that enjoys injecting original nuances and novel viewpoints into everything.