Bold Museum Plan Given by Getty Trust
110-acre cultural campus to be built on mountaintop
SANTA MONICA, CALIF. — PRITZKER Prize-winning architect Richard Meier calls it "without question the most complex project imaginable."Ada Louise Huxtable, art critic and historian says it "will establish Los Angeles as a major world center in artistic research and scholarship." The art media have dubbed it "the architectural commission of the century." "It" is the design for the Getty Center - a $360 million, 110-acre interdisciplinary arts campus to be built atop the Santa Monica Mountains with spectacular views of city, mountains, and ocean. Plans began in 1982, when the J. Paul Getty Trust received the bulk of the oil magnate's $3.2 billion personal estate. Scale models and a graded construction site were shown to the press last week. The completion date is set for 1996. "With an uncommon freedom to move inside and outside with ease, I feel I've created a complex that couldn't be built anywhere but Southern California," said Mr. Meier in an interview at the unveiling. Characterizing plans as calling for far more collaboration than is usual, Meier and officials said the complex will bring a public identity to the Getty that it has never had. Best known for running the world's richest museum - the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu - the J. Paul Getty Trust has funded five additional programs scattered under different roofs: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities; the Getty Conservation Institute; the Getty Art History Information Program; the Getty Center for Education in the Arts; the Getty Grant Program. "While the word synergy is used more often than it is accomplished," said Harold Williams, president and CEO, "it's something that can and will happen here." The new location will make the museum more accessible to the public as well. The complex is expected to attract 1 million visitors a year, three times that of the current museum. "The overall design has been very well worked out," says Ms. Huxtable. The centerpiece is the museum, which will consist of five two-story pavilions around a garden courtyard. Paintings will be shown on second levels with natural light. Decorative arts, manuscripts, drawings, and sculpture will be displayed on the first floor under low electric light. Five adjacent structures will house facilities for Getty's other programs. Each breaks new architectural ground both functionally and aesthetically, according to local critics. Recalling earlier controversies over how the trust spends its money (the museum alone must spend over $60 million a year for new acquisitions) Huxtable adds that the new complex will receive criticism only from those who "continue to be Getty bashers." Mr. Williams and the directors of each of the new center's entities spoke highly of the success of the design collaboration. "We spent a long time trying to develop a place that would be very hard for people to tear themselves away [from]," said museum president John Walsh. ARCHITECT Meier, who has designed such buildings as the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), the Museum for Decorative Arts (Frankfurt), and Hartford Seminary, has worked on the project solidly for seven years. Though he says the design is an amalgamation of visionary statements - about the city, the state, the museum, and himself - his greatest delight is its treatment of light. "This architecture forces you to see the uniqueness of California light," he said. Sunlight will be directed into galleries with moving louvers that respond to the sun's arc during the day - flooding light inward, but keeping direct rays off paintings and walls. Visitors will enter the complex from a nearby freeway, park in a six-level underground garage, and ride a four-minute tram to the top of the hill. "This will be a sanctuary for the mind," said Walsh. "Both stirring curiosity and satisfying it."