By Sandy Silver

Conservation image

During this summer, the Getty Conservation Institute was the first program of the J. Paul Getty Trust to move to its new and permanent home in the Getty Center, a cultural complex dedicated to the visual arts and humanities.

Designed by Richard Meier & Partners, the Getty Center will by the end of 1997 unite in one facility all of the Trust's Los Angeles-based programs and administrative offices. In addition to the Conservation Institute, the Center will house the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Grant Program, the Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Information Institute, the Education Institute for the Arts, and the administrative offices of the Getty Trust. The move will enhance the existing collaboration between the Getty entities in the development of joint programming, projects, and exhibitions.

At completion, the campus-like cultural center will offer specialized facilities for Getty programs and their activities and provide an environment that is both inviting and educational for the general public—as well as conducive to interdisciplinary research and the exchange of ideas by scholars, scientists, and educators. Exhibits, lectures, cultural events, conferences, and concerts will take place at the Getty Center once it opens to the public.

The move to the Getty Center has changed not only the GCI's location but its approach to work space. In order to facilitate the Institute's multidisciplinary approach to projects and to enhance communication among staff, the GCI's new location in the Center's East Building is designed with open workstations rather than enclosed offices. In addition to encouraging staff to share expertise, this design takes advantage of the building's many exterior windows and abundant natural light. To accommodate the many small, simultaneous meetings that take place every day, work areas are interspersed with a number of meeting rooms, each with at least one clear glass wall to maintain the open feeling of the space and to distribute the natural light. Each meeting room is named for an international cultural heritage site.

In addition to rethinking general work space, the Institute has also taken the opportunity to clarify the function of each of its research laboratories. For example, the environmental analysis lab is separated from the other labs so that trace element testing can be done without interference from other chemical work. Because the research in this lab is often carried out in conjunction with work in the environmental research lab and analytical lab, these labs are adjacent. To prepare the many stone samples from the various sites and monuments, a separate tile cutting room with a floor drain and a dust collector system has been created. A room has also been designed to house the GCI's chemical and materials reference collection. So that visitors may glimpse the laboratory spaces without disrupting the ongoing work, lab doors have glass windows.

To arrive at the hilltop Getty Center—a complex of buildings clad in travertine stone and off-white enameled metal panels (see accompanying article)—visitors and staff will leave their cars in a parking structure located conveniently off the San Diego Freeway (one of the major thoroughfares of Los Angeles), then take a tram up to the Center itself. The tram, a "horizontal elevator" system designed by Otis Transit Systems and the first of its kind on the West Coast of the United States, is completely electric, emission free, and cable driven. Two automated trams, each holding about 90 people, travel along an elevated guideway, floating on a 1.5-millimeter cushion of air generated by high-powered electric fans; this feature enables the tram cars to consume less energy than if they rode on wheels. The 1.2-kilometer trip takes about four minutes. If a visitor's preference is to take a steep and invigorating walk along Getty Center Drive, there is a parallel walkway, partially shaded by Italian stone pines.

The stone pines are among the eight thousand or so trees planted at the Getty Center; they include coast live oaks on hillsides and white crape myrtles on the walkway between the Getty Museum and the East Building. In front of the Museum are California sycamores, and within the terraced planters of the central plaza are Australian tea trees. A Chinese lantern tree and a flowering Tabebuia tree are planted in the East Building courtyard, and kentia palms with ferns below grow in the garden between the North and East Buildings.

In addition to the general landscaping, there will be a central garden, designed by Los Angeles artist Robert Irwin. The garden will include about five hundred species of plants, including tulips, irises, geraniums, nasturtiums, hydrangeas, sage, crape myrtle, and bougainvillea. A series of London plane trees will form a canopy over a stream that will empty into a shallow pool at the base of a hill.

When the Getty Center opens to the public at the end of 1997, the Villa in Malibu, where the Getty Museum is currently housed, will close for renovations for approximately two years. Changes will include a new auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, and training laboratories. In addition to displaying the Getty's Greek and Roman antiquities collection, the Getty Villa will become a center for comparative archaeology and cultures, with space for courses, conferences, and exhibitions organized by other Getty programs—including the Conservation Institute.

Within weeks of the GCI's arrival at the Getty Center, the Grant Program and the Education Institute for the Arts also moved to their new facilities. In approximately one year, the Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Information Institute, and the Museum will relocate to the Center. For those coming to the GCI in the future to meet with its staff or to participate in on-site events, a visit will offer the opportunity to enjoy the broad range of cultural programming and contemplative spaces that will be found at the new Getty Center.

Sandy Silver is Manager of Office Services with GCI Administration.