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White is the most iconic colour in the world of design. It emphasises an attitude where the structure and its shape are of prime importance. It has therefore been an integral part of modernism, where the design ethic was famously summed up by Mies Van Der Rohe when he said, “Less is more”.
Although not all modernists devote themselves to a colour, Richard Meier, who celebrates his 50th year in architecture in 2013, is one of the world’s foremost architects to have furthered the modernist language while choosing to dress almost all of his designs solely in white.
Meier’s reputation is based on the fact that he draws inspiration from modernist masters such as Le Corbusier and Van Der Rohe.
The Smith House in Connecticut, for instance, bears a number of similarities to Le Corbusier’s white masterpiece, La Villa Savoy; the proportions of both houses are different, but the Smith House reflects how the architect built on Le Corbusier’s manifesto, Five Points of Architecture, and tailored the house to reflect its vibrant surroundings. Coloured only in white, the house draws attention to its shape while comfortably standing out amidst the surrounding greenery. In effect, Meier’s design elaborates on Le Corbusier’s, which is why many classify his designs as Neo-Corbusian.
For his works, Meier was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1984 and the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal in 1997. He is one of the New York Five, a group of influential modernist architects based in New York who have contributed significantly to the movement around the world. The term was not originally serious, but subsequent arguments published in various papers in the 1970s between the ‘Whites’ (as the Five were known) and the ‘Grays’ (a group of post-modernists) about the purpose and direction of architecture cemented Meier’s role as a pioneer in his field.
That Meier chooses to have his buildings coloured white shows how he is a modernist at heart. However, his designs also allow for interpretation, which was evident when he said, “I think white is the most wonderful colour of all because within it one can find every colour of the rainbow.”
– Shayan Shakeel
First published in the Real Estate Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on January 27, 2013.