[MUSIC PLAYING] [CROWD CHEERING]
(SINGING) Here we are at Cornell. And no, we're not complaining, but it's always raining. Here we are at Cornell. And when we are gone, it will still go on and on and on and on and on, on and on and on and on and on.
RICHARD A. MEIER: I grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and attended Columbia High School. And it was during that time that I had to figure out where I might attend college.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: We were at South Orange Junior High School, went through Columbia High School, went through Cornell. Dick was bony, tall as a youth.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Both uncles-- both brothers of my mother had attended Cornell. My oldest uncle was Joseph Kaltenbacher. And his brother is Richard Kaltenbacher.
I have two brothers, both younger. One is three years younger, and he also went to Cornell and was there while I was there. So Cornell was one of the three schools, as I remember, that I applied to from high school. But it was my first choice.
KELLY MARX: Many of us probably figure that Richard was sought after by Cornell. Not quite the way it went. In fact, he called my roommate, Tom Litwin, who was a freshman with me-- could he do something to help him get into Cornell?
He had applied to the architecture school. Tom went dutifully to the school, saw the admissions director there. And he had a pile, a real high pile of applicants. He looked at them.
Finally, the last applicant he had was Richard's. Well, he took it, put it on top. And next week later, Richard got into Cornell.
RICHARD A. MEIER: And so I was, of course, delighted when I was accepted in the School of Architecture. I had decided that's what I wanted to do actually even before I knew where I wanted to go to college. Because I knew I wanted to be an architect. I remember reading Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography at the time, being fascinated by that.
I hadn't known any architects when I was in high school, although I spent one summer working as a carpenter on houses as a roofer. I spent another summer in an architect's office in Newark as a gofer, office boy, trying to see what it was like. It didn't dissuade me from wanting to study architecture.
I wanted to go to a suburban campus. I thought I would live in the city all my life. This is a one time to spend in some Utopian environment.
At the age of 17, I arrived in Ithaca and lived in the Baker dorms right at the bottom of the slope below what was then the School of Architecture in White Hall. The architecture studio was on the top floor of White Hall.
And it was pretty much gutted, and there were skylights. And it was a real garret-type atmosphere-- the sloped ceilings and light coming through the skylights. And it was a great place to study and work.
And we spent a lot of time there, of course-- many, many, many nights, late through the night. And there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie among the students.
JUDITH YORK NEWMAN: It was really an atelier in Paris, except it happened to be in Ithaca. And first-year students were not there. First-year students were in Morse Hall, which was actually a relic of its former self. It had had a fire. And only one story remained of that building, plus the basement where the sculpture studios were. So the first-year design was in that building.
RICHARD A. MEIER: One of the required courses for every first-year student in architecture at that time, in addition to the design and history and other courses, was calculus. And although I had done well in high school in geometry-- solid geometry, plane geometry, et cetera, calculus was not something that I did very well in.
And I had a Professor Brown, who told me one day that if I didn't pass his course in calculus, I wouldn't be able to continue in architecture. And I wasn't doing very well.
And he said to me, in fact, I don't think you are going to pass this course. So you should be prepared to think about what you're going to do when you fail.
Well, lo and behold, I did fail calculus that first year. And I said, I've got to do something. If I go back and try and do this course again with Mr. Brown, he's going to fail me again.
So I went that summer to take up a makeup course at Seton Hall University in South Orange, which was where my parents-- next to Maplewood where my parents lived. And I passed calculus with all the basketball players at Seton Hall, and was then able to move on into the second year. But that was a sort of traumatic beginning in my education at Cornell.
DON GREENBERG: And I first met Richard in the architecture school when he was a freshman and sophomore, and we became close friends. My earliest memories of working with Richard was it became very clear after the first year or two that he was really good in design, and I was doing pretty well in the structures courses with a professor by the name of Lud Brown. And we'd sit together quite frequently.
And I think I would be helping him somewhat with the structures problems. And in return, I would get a design crit, which was quite helpful. And we established this relationship. Now, it's more than 50-plus years ago.
ELLIOTT GLASS: I remember Richard had in the last two years of school, he developed this procedure of stippling, which used a toothbrush to add this texture to his renderings. And he managed to apply that system to almost everything he was doing.
We would see him at his desk with the toothbrush and the paint, and leaves what's kind of a fine, misty texture over these renderings to add interest and depth, I guess, to the drawing. Somehow, he came up with this. Everyone had their own little idiosyncrasies about how they would produce drawings, and what they would look like, and what they would end up. But this was his.
JUDITH YORK NEWMAN: We put up a space frame on the quad for so-called Engineers Day. Here we were physically doing work. And would you believe that all of the guys are wearing ties. I mean that's really unbelievable.
ED ROSEN: I particularly remember, because it was so special, his black Chevy Bel Air convertible car-- think it was a '53. And he had it, and it was pretty slick and pretty fancy. And Richard liked sporting around and parking on weekends in the College of Architecture parking lot with his top down.
RICHARD A. MEIER: I remember one year the Dean of the School of Architecture, Dean Mackesey, said that there would be no dragon on St. Patrick's Day. He forbid it.
Well, of course, students, you know, believe in tradition. So we built the dragon anyway. And I remember walking through the quadrangle with the dragon.
And Dean Mackesey grabbed me by the shoulder and said, I want to see you. You're the ringleader. You're the one who defied me. You're the one who's going to get punished for this. And I was floored by this. I didn't understand it. But fortunately, the reprimand wasn't too serious.
Fifth year, I lived in the countryside. And I looked around, and the only place I could find was one of those small cabins that are rented out in the spring and summer, way out on Dryden Road.
And so I rented for the winter this one-room cabin which had no heat, but had a fireplace. And it's a very small bathroom, no shower. And that's where I lived my fifth year.
Since I spent most of my time in the College of-- in the drafting room, I basically went to school, stayed there all night, and then came back there to sleep. But I remember there were nights it got very cold.
There was a man in the government department who I got to know fairly well named Arch Dotson. I'd taken one of his courses. And he was actually the faculty advisor for the fraternity which I belonged to at the time. And so we became good friends. Spectacular individual, and great teacher and a great friend.
ARCH DOTSON: He's a great guy for a party. But at the same time, he's serious. He never felt any pressure. He had a great sense of humor. He was a punster. He was just extraordinary and honest about his output, honest about art and the history of art. I mean, he was just a rarity.
He would sit here until 4 o'clock in the morning talking about art and architecture. How do you explain? Something clicks. And then to discover later that this is the-- he became the Richard Meier.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Esther Dotson taught in the art department.
ESTER DOTSON: We had an ancient, falling-down barn, which had very interesting timber structure. And Richard was working on a special project for his structures course. And he came out and climbed around in these really rather dangerous rafters taking photographs of exactly how the joints were made and so on. We found this really very-- a very attractive person who was willing to do this kind of research on old, old buildings.
We saw photographs in the Times of some beach houses that Richard had designed. And we thought, ah, that's-- those look wonderful. They're very interesting.
So we got in touch with him, and we said, we have a need of a new space. We have built a foundation for a barn. We said, would you build us a barn on that foundation? And by the way, while you're at it, you might put an apartment in one end of it.
And he designed this. And we started to build it, and we saw how it felt. And we said, we won't live in this. So we abandoned our house and moved here.
But we felt that this should not be a white house dwarfing the white house, the old white house. But Richard, I think, never really forgave us for wanting this to be a barn color, a kind of barn color, even with a compromise that it was a little more interesting than a barn color.
RICHARD A. MEIER: The one disagreement that Arch and I had about the house, as I remember, was when it was finally completed, he said to me Richard, what do you-- how do you think we should paint the house-- this huge model building? I mean, it wasn't residential scale. It was really institutional scale.
So I said, well, let's paint it-- why don't you paint it white? And Arch said, no. I think it's-- white's not the right color. I think I should paint it red, because it's more like a barn than it is like a house. And he did.
I was in a fraternity, ZBT, but I lived downtown.
SPEAKER 1: They lived in a house down on the end of the University Avenue, which turns into Court Street.
KELLY MARX: When Richard came up to Cornell, he became a member of ZBT fraternity, and I was his big brother. I will say that Richard became acclimated to life on the hill very fast.
However, I guess it was his first house party, first fall house party. And we went to the Saturday football game. And at the game, of course, the custom was for the fraternity, we brought milk cans full of spiked fruit punch.
Richard, of course, as tradition goes, he was told that we drink after every Cornell touchdown. However, for some reason, he thought it was after every first down. So by the time the game was over, he was completely smashed.
RICHARD A. MEIER: My roommate was also in the fraternity, a man named Marc Meshorer, who was in liberal arts. Marc was a brilliant student. We shared one course together, as I remember, at 8:00 in the morning. A course given by Nabokov, which was quite extraordinary.
So I went to the course and took copious notes. And Marc would read my notes and write his papers from my notes. And he did far better than I did. But he was an excellent student, and unfortunately, passed away a number of years ago from cancer.
DAN SILVERBERG: Mark Meshorer, who I think might have even been his roommate in the first year in Upper Baker, became his really closest friend. He stayed in contact with Marc through all those years.
ED ROSEN: We didn't want to get drafted. And the opportunity we had was to join the reserves. And we joined a reserve unit in Ithaca. And it was Geoff Paine, Richard, and I.
Because we were in the same reserve unit when we graduated in July of the graduation year '57, we were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and all sent to the same training regiment.
RICHARD A. MEIER: I went to work for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill for six months. And then I went to work for Marcel Breuer for three years before opening my own practice. During that period, I slept in one room and worked in the other room.
The first commission I had was a small house on the beach in Fire Island that we built in nine days. And then my parents decided they wanted no more stairs, and asked me to design a house for them on one level in Essex Fells, and which was really the first work of architecture that I was able to do on my own.
JUDITH YORK NEWMAN: I probably jump-started Richard's career. My career after graduating was working for an architect, but then working for a magazine-- actually, two magazines-- Living for Young Homemakers and House and Garden. So I had a chance to work with and know the best architectural photographers in the field.
I convinced one of them to photograph Richard's parents' house in Essex Fells New Jersey, and to just do it on the basis that he would be able to sell those photographs to a magazine. And they were. They were sold to American Home. That house was published, and as I said, the rest is history.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Another friend who had taught at Cornell, and whose class I had taken and had great admiration for named Alan Solomon, who taught 20th century art and just was an extraordinary teacher.
And he had come to New York to take over as director of the Jewish Museum in New York. And he had asked me to help him in the design of exhibitions that he was doing after he had done a great Rauschenberg show and a great Johns show and primary sculpture-- a number of exhibitions which were absolutely extraordinary.
And I suggested that he do an exhibition on recent American synagogue architecture, which I would curate and write the catalog for. I organized this exhibition at the Jewish Museum for Alan at that time.
Peter, I knew vaguely from high school. And then I knew him slightly at Cornell. But I really didn't get to know Peter well until after Cornell, when we were both working in New York, and he decided to open the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and asked me to come around and be part of the activities there.
Well, the New York Five came into existence almost by accident. Arthur Drexler sponsored a one-day event at the Museum of Modern Art-- Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, and myself each brought a project that we are currently involved with and sort of presented it to others for discussion.
Someone, I'm sure it was Peter, said, well, why don't we make a little booklet and show what it was that we presented. We'll have a little publication.
PETER EISENMAN: And I went to George Wittenborn, who had a store on Upper Madison Avenue. And I said, hey, George, I got a great idea for a book. Let's do a book called Cardboard Architecture. And then the guys, we all got together and we said no, no, no, no. That's your thing-- cardboard architecture. We'll just call it Five Architects and put our names on the thing. And that's what we did.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Wittenborn agreed to publish it, and we got it together. And it came out in the form that you know it to be today, as Five Architects, and had a very powerful and positive influence in the world of architecture. But it was really just a pamphlet that we innocently thought we'd commemorated an event.
Michael Graves and I decided to rent a studio to paint together at night. And so we rented a studio on 10th Street for a short time, where we painted. And I was able to do very large paintings, gestural abstract expressionist type work.
And after our short lease was up, I realized I couldn't do these large paintings in my apartment, which was two rooms the size of this room. Each one was half the size of this room.
And so I started doing collages, because I could do small things there. And then started traveling quite a bit. And so I could do collages on the airplanes. And I had a box that fit just between the arms of a seat that I would carry with me with glue and paper. And so I started making collages, and I've continued to do that ever since.
I always hoped and I dreamed that one day I would be able to give back to the place that has given me so much.
DON GREENBERG: Richard both loved Cornell, and he also wanted to work at Cornell. There were projects which Richard was doing probably 25 or 30 years ago, that dealt with housing-- a housing project which never ended up being built.
He also was working initially with a potential alumni house project on Bebe Lake. And finally, he has this real project which is going, which everybody is really looking forward to seeing.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Currently, we're about to start construction on a new research laboratory building, which is a very large building, I might add, with a huge amount of laboratory facilities for genetics research.
I was delighted when I was told that I was selected as the Frank Rhodes professor, which was a new, distinguished chair that was established by the class of 1956. And I felt very honored to be chosen to do this.
DON GREENBERG: I've taught with him in Rome. I know he gets enormous amount of credit for his very well-published and well-designed buildings. But one has to see him in a classroom to realize how sincere he is about trying to make the profession a better profession.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: Richard's house in the Hamptons sat on plain ground, a normal lawn. And he became enamored of what are called berms, where you roll the ground and create a phenomenal landscape that looks like a painting. It's remarkable.
In order to create these berms, he had hired Chinese workmen dressed in white, who bermed the land, carved it, did it. The grass grew. It was like a Bvlgari jewel.
And then I hear it came time for the first mowing of the bermed property. But the berms were so arcane and so interesting that the mowing machine got stuck, and it could not go down a berm and up a berm, so they had to do it by hand.
SPEAKER 2: Richard's printing, since my handwriting is so bad, was so good that it inspired me henceforth to print, rather than to write script.
ED ROSEN: Today I'm in the construction business. I'm no longer an architect-- a practicing architect, anyway. And we're currently working with Richard on 165 Charles Street, which is one of those three beautiful, elegant apartment houses that he's building on West Street.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: The downtown buildings that he's done, I've no-- I sell some of them, because I'm a broker in New York. It is fun being Richard's friend when you're in the real estate business. It is an enduring and wonderful friendship.
KELLY MARX: He's still the same old Richard. Actually, he's the same old Dick Meyer. Because when we knew him from high school, he was Dick Meyer. He became Richard after he graduated from Cornell.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Architecture is the subject of my architecture. What I try to do is to pursue the plastic limits of modern architecture to include a notion of beauty molded by light.
My wish is to try to create a kind of spatial lyricism within the canon of pure form. I reject the representational, and I embrace the abstract.
I work with volume and surface. I try to manipulate forms in light, changes of scale and view, movement and stasis. I'd like to think that it's possible to see in my work a series of investigations into the spatial interchange between the public and the private realms.
My meditations are about space, about form, about light, and how you make it. This is really the heart and the soul of architecture.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: Richard is an obsessive detail visionary. He sees what he needs to do, and I think it's a miracle that he does things like the Getty. Out of rock, comes this dream.
SPEAKER 3: He really achieved an incredible early success. And no question that that success was due to him. I mean, it was deserved. I mean, he was an immaculate-- he had an immaculate sense of detail, a sense of timing in his spaces.
And he was able to take the early successes and really become what I would consider to be America's blue chip architect after Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei. I think Richard achieved the status of blue chip.
SPEAKER 4: Richard is very single-minded and directed and intense, and all of those that-- I mean, there are a lot of people like that who aren't successful. But he turned all those attributes into an outstanding career.
SPEAKER 5: I believe that Richard understood what he needed to do, and he committed himself to do it.
SPEAKER 6: He clearly had an inner desire to be great that wasn't an outer desire. And he stuck with it. I mean, he worked at it. He worked hard.
I mean, he's-- you can never say Richard was lazy, never paying attention to detail. I mean, this guy really did it. And he had a nose for how to get through the line and score a touchdown.
SPEAKER 7: We called him Ram, which were his initials-- R-A-M.
SPEAKER 8: So in '63 is when you opened the office, it was just you who was--
RICHARD A. MEIER: Just me.
SPEAKER 8: So they call that an office, even though--
RICHARD A. MEIER: I had stationery.
I've done a lot. I have two great children and a lot of work that I can be proud of.
What is the date?
SPEAKER 8: 8th, 9th, and 10th of June.
RICHARD A. MEIER: Yeah. I have it down here. 50th reunion. Gosh. Can't be that long. Seems like a long time. It doesn't feel like it's 50 years.
(SINGING) When the sun fades far away in the Crimson of the West. And the voices of the day, murmur low and sink to rest.
Music when the twilight falls, o'er the dreaming lake and dell. 'Tis an echo from the walls of our own, our fair Cornell.
Welcome night and welcome rest, fading music fare the well. Joy to all we love the best, love to thee our fair Cornell.
Music when the twilight falls, o'er the dreaming lake and dell. 'Tis an echo from the walls of our own, our fair Cornell.
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This video features Cornell-educated architect Richard A. Meier, class of 1956, founder of the architectural firm Richard Meier & Partners Architects.
Created in honor of Meier's 50th Reunion in June 2006, the video is illustrated with vintage photos of Meier's days on the hill, his friends in college, his family, and his earliest projects including his first houses. Meier is heard describing why he selected Cornell, telling about his years as an architecture student as well as his friendships with ZBT fraternity brother Marc Meshorer and Profs Arch and Esther Dotson for whom he did an Ithaca house very early in his career.
There is spectacular video footage of his most famous work, the billion dollar Getty Center, combined with voice-over from a 1992 Cornell University lecture by Meier in which he describes his architecture. Meier and architect Peter Eisenman '54 describe the origin of The New York Five (The Whites.) Meier's continued connection to Cornell is described with mention of the design of the new Cornell Life Science Technology Building and with brief commentary and appearances from his Cornell architecture classmates, fraternity brothers, and Cornell friends.
Produced by Phil ('62, B.Arch. '64) and Maddy ('65) Handler, Fly on the Wall Productions.