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Architecture

View of the Museum plaza at the Getty Center.

Unique design elements, beautiful gardens, and open spaces. Richard Meier's Getty Center harmoniously unites the parts of the J. Paul Getty Trust, and makes them accessible not only to Los Angeles but to the world.

The Central Garden lawn and Garden Terrace Cafe have city views looking to the south.

The Central Garden lawn and Garden Terrace Cafe have city views looking to the south.

View of travertine stone covering walls and grounds of the Getty Center.

The 1.2 million square feet of travertine stone is one of the most remarkable elements of the complex. Many of the stones revealed fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches when they were split along their natural grain.

View of the Entrance at the Getty Center, with curved architectural elements.

Curvilinear design elements and natural gardens soften the grid created by the travertine squares.

View of the Entrance Hall at the Getty Center, showing glass walls that allow sunshine to illuminate the interior.

Natural light is one of the Getty Center's most important architectural elements. The many exterior walls of glass allow sunshine to illuminate the interiors.

Image of the circular building that houses the Getty Research Institute.

A circular building houses the Getty Research Institute, used by Getty scholars, staff, and visiting researchers. The circular library evokes the introspective nature of scholarly research.

Image of a shallow water feature with travertine blocks in the Museum Courtyard.

Shallow water features containing boulders and travertine blocks are found throughout the Getty Center. Look for this one in the Museum Courtyard. As the light changes, so does the color of the water and the stone.

A unique destination, the Getty Center incorporates the modern design of architect Richard Meier, with beautiful gardens, open spaces, and spectacular views of Los Angeles.

Unique design elements, beautiful gardens, and open spaces. Richard Meier's Getty Center harmoniously unites the parts of the J. Paul Getty Trust, and makes them accessible not only to Los Angeles but to the world.

The Site

The Getty Center sits on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, just off the San Diego Freeway. From there, visitors can take in the disparate aspects of Los Angeles's landscape—the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the vast street—grid of the city. Inspired by the relationship between these elements, architect Richard Meier designed the complex to highlight both nature and culture.

The Central Garden lawn and J. Paul Getty Museum Garden Terrace Cafe with city view.
The Central Garden lawn and J. Paul Getty Museum Garden Terrace Cafe with city view.

When approached from the south, the modernist complex appears to grow from the 110-acre hillside. Two computer-operated trams elevate visitors from a street-level parking facility to the top of the hill. Clad in Italian travertine, the campus is organized around a central arrival plaza, and offers framed panoramic views of the city. Curvilinear design elements and natural gardens soften the grid created by the travertine squares.

The entrance to the Museum displays the curvilinear design elements that soften the grid created by the travertine squares.
The entrance to the Museum displays the curvilinear design elements that soften the grid created by the travertine squares.

Travertine

The stone—1.2 million square feet of it—is one of the most remarkable elements of the complex. This beige-colored, cleft-cut, textured, fossilized travertine catches the bright Southern California light, reflecting sharply during morning hours, and emitting a honeyed warmth in the afternoon.

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 1.2 million square feet of travertine stone covers many surfaces of the Getty Center.
The 1.2 million square feet of travertine stone covers many surfaces of the Getty Center.

The 16,000 tons of travertine are from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy, 15 miles east of Rome. Many of the stones revealed fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches when they were split along their natural grain. Meier and his staff worked for a year with the quarries to invent a process using a guillotine to produce the unique finish.

Natural Light

Natural light is one of the Getty Center's most important architectural elements. The many exterior walls of glass allow sunshine to illuminate the interiors. A computer-assisted system of louvers and shades adjusts the light indoors. The paintings galleries on the Museum's upper level are all naturally lit, with special filters to prevent damage to the artworks.

In this image of the Museum Entrance Hall we see how exterior walls of glass allow sunshine to illuminate the interiors.
In this image of the Museum Entrance Hall we see how exterior walls of glass allow sunshine to illuminate the interiors.

Galleries, Libraries, Offices, and Gardens

In the Museum, clear sight lines between interior and exterior spaces allow visitors to move in and out of the 5 gallery pavilions and always know where they are. Exterior courtyard spaces include fountains and a variety of trees, including Mexican Cypress, as well as the cactus garden to the south.

A circular building houses the Getty Research Institute, used by Getty scholars, staff, and visiting researchers.
A circular building houses the Getty Research Institute, used by Getty scholars, staff, and visiting researchers.

A circular building to the west of the Central Garden houses the Getty Research Institute (GRI), used primarily by Getty scholars, staff, and visiting researchers. The circular library evokes the introspective nature of scholarly research, with book stacks and reading areas wrapping around a central courtyard. A ramp creates concentric paths, promoting interaction among the scholars and staff. A skylight pulls light through to the subterranean reading room. At the plaza level, an exhibition gallery displays objects in the GRI's collection for visitors.

Two buildings to the north and east of the Tram Arrival Plaza house the Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the J. Paul Getty Trust administration offices. Sunken gardens, terraces, glass walls, and open floor plans provide fluid movement between indoor and outdoor space, and views of Los Angeles for Getty staff.

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