- (415) 339-5810
The Amazing Use of Travertine at the Getty Center
Travertine, a limestone that is born from hot springs. The Romans first used it thousands of years ago for the Colosseum in Rome and now, more than 2,000 years apart, another famous travertine structure is built: the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The Getty Center, designed by architect Richard Meier was opened to the public on December 16, 1997. Sitting on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, it offers amazing views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The campus, which is clad in Italian travertine, is organized around a central plaza, whose curvilinear design elements soften the toughness of the travertine slabs. This material is the main character here, with the 1.2 million square feet of Italian travertine from the city Bagni di Tivoli, 15 miles east of Rome. This beige-colored, cleft-cut, textured, fossilized stone, usually associated with public architecture, symbolizes in fact qualities that the Getty Center itself celebrates, like permanence, warmth, simplicity and craftsmanship.
Many slabs, split along their natural grain, reveal fossilized leaves, branches, feathers, and occasionally bones. Richard Meier and his staff collaborated with the workers from the Mariotti quarry for a year and actually managed to invent a particular “guillotine” process to create this unique rough textured finish, which shows very antique patterns (Tivoli’s travertine, whose deposits are 300 feet thick, started forming 200,000 years ago and continues up to the present).
Wall with inset feature stone
The 16,000 tons of Italian travertine cover not only the retaining walls and bases of all buildings, but are also used as paving stones in the arrival plaza and Museum courtyard. Travertine panels serve as indoor decoration for the transitional walls between galleries, while metal panels cover the upper stories and curvilinear elements to resemble the stone. Most of the paving travertine is honed and unfilled, with exception of the interior that is filled. The particular sepia-toned color of the stone catches the bright Southern California light, sharply reflecting the morning hours and giving a honeyed afternoon warmth.
Museum courtyard with inset feature stones
The lighter colored travertine on the Getty’s exterior and interior is called Classico; the darker one, used just on some interior parts, is called Barco, and both come from different sections of the same quarry near Rome.
Fountain alcove in east pavilion of Museum, courtyard level
While working in Europe, Meier developed an open-joint stone system, which differs from the American technique of sealing the joints with mortar: by doing so,he was able to protect the surfaces over time – already treated with a silicate-based water repellent – by allowing water to drain behind the outer skin, allowing each stone to slightly move independently, which is critical for the Southern California earthquake-prone. In fact, each panel is individually anchored and it took the draftsmen more than 3 years to create more than 2,500 shop drawings for every single stone for walls and paving. Meier’s perfectionism for this project became famous: he worked with the quarry to create the exact look he wanted for the 290,000 pieces of travertine that cover all the buildings.
Corner wall of Museum cafe with leaf fossils
The critics were correct when stating that its the travertine that has made Meier’s design successful. In fact, without it, the Getty would be architecture; with it, it has become great architecture. Furthermore, this particular travertine is unlike any other one used in buildings in the United States.
Pictures from http://academic.reed.edu/getty/travertine.html