Those familiar with the buildings Richard Meier has designed know the Pritzker Prize–winning architect favors clean lines, wide panes of glass and white facades. Visitors to his office, an airy sixth-floor space in a building on the west side of Manhattan, will find those same qualities in spades.
“The openness, the light, the flexibility of the space—that’s what was appealing about it,” Meier, 78, says of the place his company has inhabited since 1986. “We have a few private offices, but mainly it’s an open space where people can work and communicate easily. It seemed to me that it was enough space to do whatever we wanted in terms of growth.”
And grow they have. When Meier first moved in—which he did at the suggestion of his friend and collaborator, the designer Massimo Vignelli—only about 30 employees were housed in the office. Almost three decades later, he has twice that number working with him, in addition to a staff at his Los Angeles outpost and a portfolio including major projects in Taiwan, China, Tel Aviv and Brooklyn.
Meier’s staff size isn’t the only thing that’s changed at the office, which sits on a desolate stretch of Tenth Avenue and calls a rare Manhattan gas station its neighbor. “At the time we moved in, the Jacob Javits Center was about to open on Eleventh Avenue,” Meier says of the formerly down-at-the-heels area. “Then they swept the streets, because with the convention center nearby they didn’t want visitors walking through a dirty area. It’s been wonderful ever since.”
Relics of just how wonderful are proudly on display throughout Meier’s office. Architectural models—like the most intricate, expensive dollhouses you’ve ever seen—line the hallways, showing off classic Meier designs (such as his iconic apartment buildings on Charles and Perry streets in Manhattan’s West Village) as well as newer projects, like the Bodrum Houses near Turkey’s Yalikavak Bay and buildings that were dreamed up but never constructed.
The models are made in a workshop in the back of the office, and what can’t be stored there is sent out to a 3,600-square-foot, open-to-the-public museum Meier keeps in Long Island City, Queens, for just that purpose.
“We devote quite a bit of space, probably too much, to storing and exhibiting the models,” he says. “We keep making models and then try to figure out where we should store them.”
But Meier doesn’t make a habit of holding on to much. He stores his passion projects, mainly collage work, at home and, except for a few keepsakes and photos of his children, his workspace is devoid of bric-a-brac. Books line the walls and sculptures—one by Meier himself, two by artist Michael Esbin—sit by the windows. The architect’s 10-foot-long desk is dotted with blueprints and the day’s newspaper but doesn’t even hold a computer.
In fact, the only thing disrupting the order of Meier’s office is a massive, colorful work by his friend the artist Frank Stella.
“That painting is pretty important to me; it was a gift from Frank very shortly after we moved in here,” Meier says of the complicated, structural artwork. “It came in pieces, but I’m not sure how we’d ever get it out of here. There aren’t many other places it could fit.”
Sure, there’s impressive art and the occasional notable visitor—a celebrity couple Meier declines to name stopped by recently to discuss their new home, and he counts an in-office breakfast with former Czech president Václav Havel as a personal highlight—but what’s most apparent throughout the space is the architect’s legacy of important design. (It’s one that will be celebrated this summer with an updated version of Complete Works, a coffee-table book chronicling his career.)
Indeed, when asked to sum up the greatest aspect of his space, Meier answers succinctly, “A lot of terrific things happen here all the time.”