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Architect Richard Meier’s Jewish Inspirations

By Benjamin Ivry

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The Newark-born American Jewish architect Richard Meier, who celebrates his 75th birthday on October 12, is being feted with an all-too-brief exhibit, “Meier 75” at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The exhibit is scheduled to end on Meier’s birthday, which shows party pooper planning on the part of the Cooper-Hewitt committee that have chosen to open it too late, close it too early or both.

“Meier 75” includes architectural drawings for some of Meier’s most famous projects, like the J. Paul Getty Center (1984-97) and the Iglesia del Jubileo (Jubilee Church; 1996–2003), outside central Rome, Meier being the only Jewish architect in history to design a Roman Catholic Church.

Known for his gleaming white surfaces and smoothly curved, ocean liner-like surfaces which seem influenced by the International Style or Le Corbusier’s High Court at Chandigarh, Meier’s range of influences is often underestimated. Overlooked is the influential 1963 exhibition which he curated at the Jewish Museum “Recent American Synagogue Architecture,”, the fruit of his early work in New York with the Davis, Brody and Wisniewski (1958-9), and Marcel Breuer (1960-63), both firms which designed synagogues. Although Meier has reportedly yet to design a synagogue himself, his typically elegant Hanukkah Lamp of tin-coated copper, now in the Jewish Museum argues unusual flair with liturgical design.

Art historians claim that Meier played a key role in alerting the modern artist Frank Stella to the landmark 1959 publication, Wooden Synagogues by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, which inspired Stella’s much-vaunted Polish Village Series of paintings. With a flood of new projects, including a luxury tower on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard Meier has clearly not finished surprising and delighting lovers of modern architecture.

Watch Bravo’s The Real Housewives of NYC “super socialite” Kelly Killoren Bensimon as she manages to get beyond the surprising length and fullness of her hair to go “Behind the Hedges” into “Richard Meier’s World” in the Hamptons.


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