Getty Center Architecture: Work of Art with a Museum Inside

The J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection is divided between the Getty Villa, in the Museum’s original location above Malibu, and the newer Getty Center in the Santa Monica Mountains off of the 405, across from the University of California, Los Angeles. After fourteen years of planning, design and construction, the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles opened to the public in December 1997 to great critical acclaim.

The Center comprises the J Paul Getty Museum, five separate arts and humanities institutions, and landscaped gardens and terraces on a 110-acre site. This hilltop fortress has some spectacular panoramic views of L.A.: the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the gridded streetscape of the city below.

Panoramic Views of Los Angeles, CaliforniaInspired by the relationship between the ocean, the mountain and the city, architect Richard Meier designed the complex to highlight both nature and culture. When approached from UCLA to the south, the complex appears to grow from the 110-acre hillside. Two computer-operated trams transport visitors from a street-level parking facility to the top of the hill.

View of Getty Center from the GardensAlthough the immense collection of Western art – from the Middle Ages to the present – that rotates through the Getty Center is impressive in itself, it’s an unbeatable combination when you combine it with Richard Meier’s architecture and Robert Irwin’s gardens. Meier took a few basic materials: metal, stone and glass (not to mention, $1.3 billion-dollar budget), and combined them to create a work of architecture that is as impressive as the art collection inside. (For me, the paintings and sculptures never excited me as much as the buildings did.)

Water features are found throughout the Getty CenterCurvilinear design elements and natural gardens soften the grid created by the travertine squares. Shallow water features, like this one in the Museum Courtyard, containing boulders and travertine blocks are found throughout the Center. As the light changes, so does the color of the water and the stone.

Archways frame spectacular views across the LA basin.Strategically placed free-standing square-cut archways frame spectacular views across the LA basin. The Garden Terrace Cafe and Central Garden lawn have beautiful city views looking to the south. Even if museums aren’t your thing, strolling the grounds or enjoying a picnic on the lawn is a lovely way to spend an afternoon in Los Angeles. (I did so, on a blind date.)

“There’s nothing else here that can stand up to this. Look around—everything’s transitory. And this is solid. This is permanent.” ~Richard Meier, Architect

The building stone is travertine, from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, the same source as the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Basilica colonnade. Meier chose stone for this project because it is often associated with public architecture and expresses qualities the Getty Center celebrates: permanence, solidity, simplicity, warmth, and craftsmanship. The stone – about 1.2 million square feet, or 16,000 tons, is one of the most remarkable elements of the complex. Split along its natural grain, many of the stones bear fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches. This beige-colored, cleft-cut, textured travertine catches the bright Southern California daylight, reflecting sharply during morning hours and emitting a honeyed warmth in the afternoon.

The building stone is travertine, from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy

The Getty Center is a work of art with a museum inside!

 © 2014 East of Eden Photography. All rights reserved.

Address: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California 90049
Phone: (310) 440-7300
Hours: Tues-Fri 10 am – 5:30 pm, Sat 10 am – 9 pm, Sun 10 am – 5:30 pm;
Closed Mondays, January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving, and December 25.
Cost: Admission is FREE, but there is a fee for parking.
Parking: $15, $10 after 5 pm for evening programs and late open hours.

For further reading:

* UPDATED: For more on Getty Center gardens, see my next post Getty Center Central Garden: Living Work of Art


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