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Richard Meier Model Museum

New Architectural Model Museum In LIC

richard meier model museumSummers / Long Island City LIC / Queens Buzz. We had the opportunity to visit the Richard Meier Model Museum in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. The museum began as a storage area for the models made and used by world famous architect Richard Meier, during the architectural design process. In the museum you will see some of the great buildings he's designed over his long career, such as the billion dollar Getty Museum in Los Angeles or the Smith House in Darien Connecticut. But there's much more ...

The museum reminded me a bit of the Noguchi Museum, where the artist had a vision of his own lasting legacy. In visiting the museum, I felt I not only had the opportunity to view the architectural process as managed by one of the great modern architects, but also to become a bit more acquainted with the man himself. Laura Galvanek, guide and curator, took me on this fascinating journey through the Richard Meier Model Museum [LIC / Queens NY].


Richard Meier Model Museum

Architectural Model Museum In Long Island City Queens

Summers / Long Island City / LIC / Queens Buzz / Continued. Early Friday afternoon, per my appointment, I arrived at the museum which is marked with only a modest sign. Laura Galvanek, the museum curator welcomed me into the spacious one room museum. The ceilings were very high, in accordance with what was once likely the buildings industrial use. Along the left wall there were numerous northern exposure windows and all other three walls were bound by the building interior.

Richard Meier Architectural Models In LIC

richard meier model museum lic queensThe large final model of the Getty Museum was about ten feet into the room from the museum entrance door. This large model and its forebears created the need for this storage space in 1997, following the completion of the museum. Given the size of the model it was crafted into 15 modular sections. Richard had saved other architectural models from prior projects, but none were done on the scale of this twelve to thirteen year billion dollar effort. In designing the Getty, Richard’s firm made about 250 separate models to depict everything from staircases to furniture to light modeling [more on this later] to the entire seven building, 124 acre museum complex.

richard meierAs mentioned in the introduction of this report, the Richard Meier Model Museum started out as a storage room for archived architectural models. The storage space brought to mind an analogy of the garage of a man who collects antique autos in that it was carefully managed space [fairly sophisticated temperature and humidity controls] used to store something that was precious to him, so that he could occasionally come to look at them. Admire their beauty, so-to-speak. This analogy falls short, of course, in that Richard was the creator of these models, not just an owner.

The models in the museum continued to remain unseen by the public until about three or four years ago, when people started asking to view them. Flattered; Richard decided to dedicate some resource to hosting visitors. Three years ago, his architecture firm decided to begin publicizing the museum. Alexandra Polier, Director of Communications, was my initial contact into the museum and also a provider of some of the background information contained herein.

Richard Meier Architect NYC

richard meier architect nycRichard Meier has been a practicing architect for some forty plus years. He first rose to prominence in 1967 via a Museum Of Modern Art exhibit by Andrew Drexler which featured five architects. Drexler dubbed the New York Five as the avante garde leaders of modern architecture in America.

Richard Meier Designs / Influences NYC

Meier was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier, the famous modern French architect of the 1920’s and 1930’s [died 1965]; as well as the famous modern American architect Philip Johnson who recently died in 2005. A few of the concepts that guide modern architecture have to do with freeing form from function, for example by constructing an edifice that relies on a spare structure [steel beams] one no longer needs supporting walls. This provides great freedom in placing walls in a building as well as in configuring the space. Another is the use of lots of space at the base of the building [open / public] and on the roof [replacing the footprint covered by the building by designing a rooftop garden].

Architectural Models As Part Of The Design Process

Laura talked about the architectural process, using the Getty models as examples. Architectural designs begin as general overlays with less detail, showing the overall design, and then progressively begin to more and more clearly incorporate detail. Like clay on the potters wheel.

Part of what happens in the architectural process is that the various constituencies’ concerns emerge and are addressed with each succeeding model. In the case of the Getty Museum the client’s vision, the architect’s vision, the landscaper's vision, the city building codes, the architecture in lic long island cityneighbors’ concerns, and all other vested parties’ considerations are addressed. Being able to visualize these helps / enables the architect, and the core group managing the effort, to solve them. This is why many architects and design schools like to visit the museum – to clearly show their students the process.

The models created by Richard’s firm are still primarily made by hand, while most other firms have moved onto laser cutting. In fact everyone who enters the firm must spend some of their time in the model shop, no matter how special they are. All Meier models are made of Malaysian birch and basswood. These woods have been selected because of their natural color and softness which facilitates precise cutting.

Getty Museum Architectural Models In LIC

architectural model museum queensOne of the larger Getty models is all one piece [see photo above]. This complicated moving in, as it had to be lowered in through a cut in the roof [see photo to right]. Museums around the world make requests for the use of the models in shows they curate. The architecture firm accommodates them by sending the models, packed in elaborate materials customized to house the delicate – and yet at the same time robust – structures.

To complete the Getty, Richard instructed his model makers to develop a small gallery box, including the walls of the museum, and an aperture at the top of it so he could see how the natural lighting would come into the gallery. He put it in the parking lot and crawled into it to evaluate the aesthetic. By now I was beginning to get a sense of the man and his perfectionism [see photo to right].

Richard Meier Model Museum - Long Island City

architectural model world trade centerThe Richard Meier Model Museum also includes numerous other models. Perhaps the most famous of which is the submission by a partnership which included his firm, for the World Trade Center Memorial Square competition. In the World Trade Center model, the footprint of twin towers are memorialized with two reflecting pools. He leaves much of the space open for the public and erects several white / glass buildings along the northern and eastern perimeter of the space. Two docks also jut out onto the Hudson River to the exact dimensions as the shadows of the towers.

Richard Meier & Partners Architects NYC

Even at age 75, Richard Meier is still very active in the projects being managed by his firm. He continues to travel the globe as he currently is working on something in Germany, Boston, as well as in China. I asked if he still involved himself in a great level of detail in projects to which both of my guides replied yes. The firm has a dozen or more large projects active around the globe.

Richard Meier As Artist - Sculptures In Long Island City

richard meier architectAs mentioned in the introduction to this story, the model museum contains more than just architectural models. It contains the work of a famous architect whose creativity includes more than building architectural models. Some of the models are of furniture. Richard has designed a number of pieces of modern furniture for Knoll and Stow Davis, both of whom are well known furniture makers. He also designed several watches for Markuse, a boutique watchmaker in Massachusetts.

But the two of his other artistic endeavors I found most interesting were the sculptures he made with remnants from models; and his personal set of collage books which appear to be an art & architecture in lic long island city queensartistic autobiography. Laura drew my attention to these late in the tour, and some day I hope to return to study them more closely. You can see one of his sculptures made of ‘recycled’ model material in the foreground of the picture in the introduction of this report and a few of the collages are shown in the photo to your left.

In closing the tour Laura ends with a model of the Smith House in Darien CT [see photo below] which is one of the houses that first put Richard on the map. She notes that in a class tour she had this season, one youngster who was studying architecture breathed a sigh of relief after viewing all of the other, far more complicated models. The student remarked, “That looks like something I just did.” The finished building of the model shown below is of the Smith House. A photo of the finished house is shown above at the beginning of this story [shot from the book Richard Meier by Taschen copyright 2008].

Richard Meier Model Museum Hours & Appointments

architectural models lic long island cityThe museum is open by appointment only, from May 10th [second Friday in May] to August 27th [last Friday in August]. The museum is closed the remainder of the year for various reasons, not least among them being temperature controls. Generally the tours are given on Fridays between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm and generally are limited to between 10 – 20 people at a time. The tour takes about an hour which includes a guided narration by curator Laura Galvanek. Currently admission is free.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that Richard Meier has been involved in the design of several world class museums around the globe. Perhaps, given his age, he should consider getting started on the design for a more permanent museum in Queens, for the Richard Meier Model Museum.

My thanks to Alexandra Polier and Laura Galvanek for their hospitality in accommodating my visit and providing some of the information contained in this report. And to the Richard Meier architecture firm in NYC. Call 212.967.6060 to schedule / join a tour before August 27th. Click here to view a map showing the location of the Richard Meier Architectural Model Museum in LIC Long Island City.

Click here to go directly into the photo album containing the following slides of the Richard Meier Model Museum in Long Island City LIC Queens.


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