Five decades after completing the iconic Smith House in Connecticut, the starchitect talks with AD about designing buildings that last
The stories that mark the rise of great architects can sometimes taken on mythical qualities that propel their protagonists into roles greater than man. But just as often, these stories simply begin with one great commission, then another, then another, then another. For Richard Meier, just over 50 years ago, it all started with the right commission: a phone call from Carole Smith, who, with her husband, wanted to build a weekend house on the Connecticut shoreline.
At the Smith House, Meier offers up a fine example of his signature all-white modernism nestled harmoniously between its environs of sea and forest. The house, which Meier divided into two de facto sections, private quarters for the family and public for entertaining, maximizes water views and natural light with enormous windows placed throughout.
“It is a fabulous site,” explained Meier. “It’s on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Long Island Sound with great views of the water. It seemed to me that they should take advantage of that, to really be able to enjoy it from almost every one of the family spaces, the living room, the study.”
What is indeed so special about this house, however, is how it has unwaveringly stood the test of time, over and over and over again. In 2000, the house received the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) prestigious 25-Year Award, conferred each year “on a building that has stood the test of time for 25–35 years.” For reference, other recipients have included I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid and Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute—it is quite the honor. Today, the building comes alive again with a new series of photographs from architectural photographer Mike Schwartz, produced in collaboration with the Smith family.
“I was up there recently with Chuck Smith, the son of the Smith family, and I must say it looked as good as the day it was finished,” said Meier. “It has a timeless quality. ”
What’s next for the Smith House? Earlier this month, news broke that the home, which has been in the Smith family for its entire existence, had been put up for sale for $14.5 million.
As for Meier’s hopes for the new owner? “I wish I had the opportunity to go up there and visit,” he explained. “The one nice thing is that over the years both Carole Smith and now her son are very hospitable. People just come from all over and just drop in, as it were. They’re very gracious in terms of letting people come see the house.”