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The state of architecture today


Meeting the Pope
Richard Meier Architect
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Well, one of the highlights was the dedication ceremony at the Frankfurt Museum. It was dedicated by the president of Germany, who made a very nice speech and I made a very short speech in which I said that as an American, and as an architect and as a Jew, it was very important, what we made here because I felt that it created a bridge that was very necessary and very important; and how proud I was to have been part of that.

[Q] You met the Pope also, could you talk about that?

Oh yeah, oh yeah, well that... that was... that was a good moment. After I was selected by the jury of the competition for the Jubilee Church, I got a telephone call from the Vatican saying would I like to come and present the model of the church to the Pope. I said, that’s not a question, that’s a... of course, I would be thrilled to do this.  So we set up a date in... again in October and I shipped the model over to Rome from New York. I had an audience with the Pope at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday morning because every Wednesday is a public audience from 9 to 11. There’s 16,000 people from all over the world and there’s Mass, and so this was scheduled in the room adjacent to that in the Vatican for 11 o’clock.  So I get there at 8 o’clock in the morning and the model was sitting over in the corner of the room and the door is over here and the room was really dark, no windows, nothing, not even a tiny light, so I said to the Swiss guards, can we get some lights on the model, so when the Pope comes in, you know, he can see what the model looks like. And, the Swiss guards disappear. I looked at my watch, 9.30, I called the Swiss guards, some lights, luce, luce, we need some lights in here. 10.30, I said I'm really getting nervous. I, got to get... something happening here. I couldn’t get the Swiss guards to bring the lights, what am I going do? I started walking in the hallways, looking for some moveable light fixtures that I could move in. I went back into the room it’s five minutes to eleven, the Pope is coming in. I said to the Swiss guards, you know, can we get some lights? We need some lights! The Swiss guards pick up the base and the model and they carry it from where it is in the corner of the room to the door. I said, what are we doing this for, we need some lights, so when the Pope arrives... Just then the Pope comes in, all the television cameras are on and there was light.

[Q] And what did you say?

I said to the Pope, I said, 'Your Highness, it’s a great privilege and honour for me to present the Jubilee Church to you and I appreciate this opportunity'. He turned to me and he said, 'You’re an American?' Then I explained the design and he looked, looked around. I had brought a drawing that I had made of the church.

[Q] And he said, are you Jewish?

No, no, he didn’t say that.

[Q] Ah, I was waiting for that!

I think that was part of what he meant when he said, 'You’re an American?' But, so I presented him with a drawing and you know, gave him a gift. I got, he gave me a coin, you know... you know a Papal coin and we talked about the project then he left.

[Q] So he liked it?

Yes, as far as I...

[Q] Well, that’s good, so you met the Pope.

Well, and the Pope... no he really liked... he liked the building and in fact, he was scheduled to dedicate the church when it was about to open. Only he passed away just two weeks before the inauguration.

The prominent American architect Richard Meier (b. 1934) is best known for the Getty Centre in Los Angeles, one of his many public projects which broke from his usual style of sleek, white buildings. In all his work – carried out with characteristic refined style – he refuses to bend to the trends of modern architecture. He has won many awards including the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, considered the field's highest honour.

Listeners: Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli was born in Milan and studied architecture in Milan and Venice. He is the co-founder and President of Vignelli Associates and Chief Executive Officer of Vignelli Designs in New York. His work includes graphic and corporate identity programs, publication designs, architectural graphics, interiors, furniture, and consumer product designs. His work has been published and exhibited throughout the world and entered in the permanent collections of several museums. He has taught and lectured on design in the major cities and universities in the United States and abroad. Included among Massimo Vignelli's awards are the Gran Premio Triennale di Milano, 1964, the Compasso d'Oro, awarded by the Italian Association for Industrial Design (ADI), 1964 and 1998, the 1982 Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, the 1983 AIGA Gold Medal, the 1992 Interior Product Designers Fellowship of Excellence, The 1995 Brooklyn Museum Design Award for Lifetime Achievement and The 2001 Russel Wright Award for Design Excellence.

Tags: La Chiesa del Dio Padre Misericordioso, Jubilee Church, Pope

Duration: 4 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2007

Date story went live: 23 December 2008