Richard Meier, 81, was one of the “New York Five” group of modernist architects who worked together in the 1970s. Meier’s many awards include the 1984 Pritzker Architecture Prize. His designs include the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be an architect. I looked at magazines and read Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography and other books. And I liked building models, even though they were very naive — I had a little workbench where I’d make things.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Columbia High School in New Jersey, then Cornell University.
Who was or still is your mentor?
There are many — I can’t say just one. Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright — there are so many architects that one looks at and is influenced by.
How physically fit are you?
I have had three hip operations, so I use a cane — but other than that I’m in pretty good health.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
I think it’s probably ambition, because if you have talent without ambition, the talent goes to waste. But if you have talent and want to do something with it, you follow your intuition.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I did when I was young, before going to architecture school. It was probably my parents’ idea, to see if that’s what I really wanted to do. I guess it went OK.
How politically committed are you?
I read about politics but I am in no way involved. It’s not something that interests me.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Oh, yes. Everything we do is environmentally attuned. You can’t do anything today, as far as I’m concerned, without thinking about the environment. That has changed a lot in probably the past 30 years — it’s a given now.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes. I live in Manhattan in an apartment and I have a house on Long Island.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I’d like to have better health.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Wine with dinner every night.
In what place are you happiest?
I’m happy in my office working. I have a studio in Jersey City and a model museum, I’m happy there. And I like being in East Hampton.
What ambitions do you still have?
I’ve never done a tall building in New York City. And I love working on designing museums, so I’m always anxious to design a new one.
What drives you on?
When I see a work built, used and enjoyed by people it gives me enormous satisfaction. I’m always interested in making places, especially public places, that people enjoy coming to.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Of all the things I’ve done, the Getty stands out.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
At the moment I think it’s the loss of certain friends who’ve passed away. I miss them.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He’d think I’d been lucky.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I don’t think about professional status. It’s not that important to me. I’m pleased to have it but it’s not the most important thing in life.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Let someone else make that decision!
Richard Meier & Partners is currently creating villas for Oaks Prague, a new residential community in the Czech Republic.
Illustration by A Richard Allen
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