Design: Taking On an Imperial Task

Richard Meier will design the $100 million Getty arts complex

The site is breathtaking: 24 prime acres atop a steep ridge in California's Santa Monica Mountains. To the west there is a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean; to the east, the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. Says Architecture Critic Reyner Banham of the site: "Not since the Roman emperors built their summer villas on the isle of Capri has there been an opportunity like this."

The owner of the land, the J. Paul Getty Trust, plans to live up to that Roman precedent with an enterprise of imperial scope. The trust,...

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