Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Photo Essay: The Getty Center Under Fog



The Getty Center in LA is a wildly popular destination for locals, domestic and international tourists alike. I think most people come for the astounding views of the surrounding neighborhoods (Bel Air and Brentwood), the Los Angeles basin, and even the Pacific Ocean. But on a day like yesterday, when the cloud cover was so low it was literally swirling in front of my face, I went to the Getty Center to see the Getty iself.

Not terribly interested in the Getty's permanent collection of prints and books and paintings, nor in its special exhibitions (though I did do a loop through the photography hall in the West Pavilion), I met a docent under the sycamore trees by the front entrance for an architecture tour.



The Getty's campus, built over 13 years in the 1980s and 90s, is an achievement in modern architecture, whose focus is on form supporting function. Like the Salk Institute, the Getty was designed to create lots of open spaces, clean lines, and long corridors to encourage its intelligentsia to mingle and communicate rather than hiding in their respective corners of the library.



Light and unobstructed views were high on architect Richard Meier's priority list, resulting in many walls and entire corners of the building being built out of windows. Overhangs were made of slats to not only let light in, but to utilize their shadows as decorative elements (rather than the more ornate embellishments of more classical architecture).



There wasn't much sunlight to speak of yesterday, though - a day when the morning June gloom never burned off, and the sun never prevailed.



Still, it was hard not to appreciate the attention to detail, right down to the building materials: notably imported Italian travertine, a beige-colored, cleft-cut sedimentary rock that proudly reveals its layers, inconsistencies, and sometimes even fossils.



Meier also designed a number of open-air "rooms" including a central courtyard between the various pavilions of the museum building and an elaborate garden in the back.





They keep the docent-led tours to a maximum 45 minutes (the reported duration of an adult's attention span) so I really only got the highlights and a few details. But its simplicity contributes to its beauty: it is monochromatic (beige, or "Getty White"), geometric (in a 30"x30" grid pattern across the floors and up the walls), symmetrical, and logical.

It is also huge, striking, and memorable, even when the views from its many overlooks give you a photograph that looks, as Edith says, as though it's been dipped in bleach.



helipad

For sunny, blue-skied photos of The Getty with actual views and shadows, visit their official site.

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