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Richard Meier Only Lives Within White Walls

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Pritzker winner Richard Meier, who runs his firm from the same New York office he's called home since 1985, has a habit of looking back. "Clients keep the buildings," he says, "but I keep the models." In fact, a warehouse space in Jersey City, where a simulated city of brown building models showcases decades of his designs in miniature, has become a favorite retreat. While the 80-year-old made a career out of designing stunning white structures, such as the Smith House and Getty Center, this cardboard-colored collection offers a look at his stylistic evolution; as Richard Meier & Partners expands its international footprint with projects across the globe, its seems fitting that others are looking back at Meiers's body of work as well. The themes and concepts that have animated his career, as well as sketches and models of unbuilt projects, will soon be on display at a new exhibition Picture, Tower, Building. Richard Meier and the Ulm Minster, opening July 8 in Ulm, Germany, inside the city's Stadthaus Exhibition & Assembly Building, a Meier-designed hall near to iconic Ulm Minster church. We spoke with Meier about his future ambitions, his views of New York, and his favorite color.

What are some lesser-known commissions that have meant more you then a casual observer might pick up on?
The building in Ulm has always been important to me because of where it's located; we designed the square in front of the cathedral that hadn't been finished in 200 years. Different buildings have different meanings. The Burda Museum which I did in Baden-Baden, that's one I look back on that I feel very proud about.

Have the questions that you ask yourself when you're starting a commission changed since you started your career?
I certainly hope they have. We begin with a client's program, budget, and the context. And times change, so how we think about the project changes, the public presence and responsibility. It's not just finances, it's the community where it's located, the situation ... working in Ulm is very different than working in Barcelona.

I read that you once met Le Corbusier in Paris. What would you ask him or tell him now is you could speak to him again?
I would say, I've always admired your work, and I still do. He's had enormous influence on generations of architects. Meeting him was a memorable occasion.

How has your impression of New York changed as the landscape has evolved?
The area around my office is a whole different area than it was decades ago. It was a tougher area, then the housing expanded all around the office, and it gentrified enormously. But New York is always changing, you go anywhere after a number of years and its remarkable, It's amazing what Chelsea was like 20 years ago. I think it's a more architecturally vibrant city now. The awareness of architecture in New York is higher than it was a few years ago. People are more interested in what's being built.

You've said architecture represents "the progress of society, of morality, of civilization itself." What are an architect's responsibilities in those regards in terms of what work he does and what work he delivers?
I think architects have enormous responsibility – to the client, society at large and to himself, to what he creates. It's always been there.

You've done so many different types of building throughout your career -- Is there any particular engineering challenge related to a building that you would like to take on but haven't gotten the chance to tackle?
Not really. We did a bridge in Alessandria, Italy; that was a big engineering challenge. I'd like to try to design a supertall. That would be exciting.

Does your preference for white as a color for exteriors carry over into any items or things that you buy or use, like clothes or a car? Do you ever get teased by your friends and loved ones for favoring white so much when you design?
Haha, no. Only the interiors of my homes, which are white. It's always been that way. I'd never live in a non-white interior.

· Richard Meier archive [Curbed]