Teachings of the Getty Museum
Entrance to the Getty Museum
Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.
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The docent at the Getty Museum explained architect Meier’s rigorous discipline in placing every single design element—even sculptures, groves of trees and clusters of boulders—on a grid established for the site. Trees are in containers, so that they can be sited exactly on the grid. The lines of the marble walkways, the fountains, the rows of carefully trimmed trees create a formal kind of serenity. The enormous plazas and vast sweep of marble walls, glass, and steel give a sense of stability and presence that dwarf the human scale of visitors, while giving a powerful impression of solidity, permanence, security.
This discipline, so strictly applied and maintained, could easily become severe and oppressive, even totalitarian. But Meier has provided enormous openings into spaciousness and light, freedom of air and sky, through the use of windows, plazas, and careful siting of the building on the hillside.
Even so, the formal structures might offer only a delusional sense of permanence, separateness, and utopian ease if it were not for one absolutely crucial element: the heart of mystery that is the central garden. Freed from the formalism of the grid, yet still respectful of the theme of relationships among circles, lines, and rectangles, the garden offers refreshment, life, color, and delight in the midst of containment that could have become punishing.
The beautifully designed path down to the garden zigs and zags across the stream, slowing us down, so that we can appreciate the differences in the sound of water on one side of the path and the other, while new vistas of trees, flowers, grasses, boulders, and water greet every turn. From above, you can see below the floating azaleas coming into bloom, that form the central maze in the midst of the pool. Your eye finds the entrance to the maze and follows its curves and blind alleys, seeking the path that leads to the heart at the center, and out again.
You must slow down and listen, stop and look, astonished, smile at the people around you in shared appreciation and pure joy, and drink in the spectacular views at every step. All exhaustion and stress fall away; all daily concerns are revealed as petty and irrelevant; all meeting is held in a spacious, sun-drenched generosity and delight. Even the spectacular architectures above vanish, as you become drenched in wonder.
How like this is our practice, and our life, if we choose.