The architect Richard Meier on model making and the recently opened Richard Meier Model Museum in Jersey City, New Jersey:
When did I first start making models? I made models with X-Acto blades when I was in architecture school. They were pretty crude. When I started working on my own, I made one for the very first house I designed, the Smith House in Connecticut. In fact, there's a little model of the Smith House, made out of cardboard, in the new Model Museum. It looks pretty rough. It's amazing that it has survived all these years. After I got more work, I had help in making the models, and then, eventually, I realized other people are better at making them than I am.
In the back of the firm's studio, we have a little model shop. I wish we had more room for it. The models that come out of there are amazing. When young people come to work here, they work in the model shop for the first three to six months. Afterwards, they get to work on a project. It's an introduction to the office.
We've always saved the models; they're like our drawings. We save everything, and we try to find a place to store it all. In the museum, there are more than 300 models, a mixture of study models and finished ones. When I walk around the office, I often say, "We should send this out to Jersey City and free up a little space."
The exhibited pieces include huge models of the Getty from the design process. For that project, we made dozens of study models and also very big ones. As we were working on the design, we kept changing the models, so for a long time it was a work in progress. Instead of throwing the pieces away, we kept them.
Before we had the new space, we had a space in Long Island City. It was initially just for storage, but people wanted to visit. So we opened it to the public one day a week. Now, with this huge space we have in New Jersey, we open it to the public every day on a by-appointment basis. Before we moved the museum there, I don't think I'd been to Jersey City, but it's a very interesting place. What's nice is that the museum is in a building where there are other studios--there's a printmaker next door. So when people come there, they're not just coming to see our museum.
Models are a part of our process, just as drawings are. We make models of just about anything. We have small models of furniture pieces that never got made. There are models of buildings that never got built. It's a sort of history of the office.--As told to Spencer Bailey
Getty Center preliminary and study models on display at the permanent exhibition gallery.
Models of the Getty Center (foreground) and other built and unbuilt projects.
Model of the Smith House, Avery Fisher Hall competition proposal, and several Getty Center studies.