Richard Meier: Geometry and light
The American architect (1934, Newark) completed his studies in Europe. His reference points are Leon Battista Alberti’s Renaissance architecture, based on perfect geometry, and Le Corbusier’s architecture, rich in geometric volumes, contrasting elements and light shaped interior spaces. But right in the heart of Rome, he got to know the architecture of wonder, by which he was struck, so as to be influenced by it. His studies and the observations he made in the Baroque city would bring him luck in the future, helping to consolidate his fame through two works, one in the city centre and the second in a suburban area. The commemorative monument Arapacis, and the Jubilee Church (Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso), also known to the Romans as the church of sails. The typically baroque use of light and geometries play a key role in both monuments. He was the only architect in Rome who managed to qualify a space in the centre of a city and a peripheral space in the same city.
Young Richard’s first building experiences took place on the coast of Long Island, where a family from New York commissioned him to build a villa, the “Smith House” villa.
The geometry he chose is that of the parallelepiped. However, the main idea of the installation is that of the permeability of the volumes to the external environment. Nature surrounds the dominant and majestic villa. Meier created a perceptive exchange between the natural elements located in the surrounding estate, and the architectural elements. He managed to do so through large windows. In this way, the living room enters nature and nature seems to participate in family life. The Smith House was a training ground for Meier, who managed to explore certain operative modes, while some geometric figures he had the opportunity to study in Le Corbusier’s works became a leitmotif for his future villa projects throughout the US. The Smith House had a great echo for the young architect, who later received many similar commissions throughout the territory. In the 1970s, he moved from villas to museums, building public structures that went down in history. The Museum of Decorative Arts in Frankfurt, High Museum in Atlanta, the Getty Center, and The Macba in Barcelona. Richard Meier was the youngest architect to be awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1984.
It is often said that great artists are such because they are mounted on the shoulders of giants. And this is precisely the case of the American architect, who was able to take advantage of the Roman Baroque school of Bernini and Borromini in the use of light as an essential element used to shape plastered white surfaces, or surfaces covered with marble to enhance their glow and define their forms. Light is the great protagonist in churches, breaking into the aisles and exalting the spectacular effects with its symbolic value, as in the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Meyer enhances the concept by building real light machines (quote from Prof. Conforti Claudia) to provide great visibility even at night. The geometries he acquired in his Renaissance studies and looking at Le Corbusier’s works, the use of light and the use of white are part of his stylistic signature. And with regard to the use of white, Richard Meier claimed:
“Importance of white clarifies your idea of architecture, it really makes you understand the difference between the plain surfaces and transparency surface, between linear elements and opaque elements, between opens and closure, between inside and outside, all this things are most clearly defined by the whiteness. Architecture is manmade, nature is not manmade, so there is a dialog between what is manmade and what is not, and the whiteness intensifies the understanding of that dialog”.