Looking Out, continued
journey toward architecture began in Norfolk, where his roots go back to the
18th century. In 1790, Moses Myers, one of the first Jewish settlers in Virginia,
was successful enough to build a large brick house. The Moses Myers house is
now a museum, a graceful survivor of the general Norfolk urban-renewal demolition
spreeand a possible inspiration for the future architects choice
of profession. Another model was Myers grandfather, a building developer
and planner who created several of Norfolks major gardens.
Myers' Wolf Residence
in Toronto, Ontario was recently cited as the Canadian design that "most
anticipated the 21st century."
as a young man, Myers recalls thinking that the people he knew who were planning
to become architects were a little weird and instead entered the
Naval Academy, where he received his undergraduate degree, training as a pilot.
The immersion in technology was a good thing, he thinks now. Systems engineering,
critical-path planning and military organization can be very useful for an architect,
While serving in the Air Force, Myers was stationed for
a time at the University of Cambridge in England. It was there that he decided
to become an architect, fascinated by the combination of old and new structures
at the university town and at Oxford. Between flight missions, Myers took courses
and applied to graduate architecture programs back home. Among the few available
at the time, Penns reputation was at a peak. So at age 26, he entered
the Graduate School of Fine Arts.
He enthuses about the giants then in residence,
notably then-Dean G. Holmes Perkins Hon72, architectural icon Louis I.
Kahn Ar24 Hon71 and Robert Venturi Hon80. He also singles
out Ian McHarg, emeritus professor of landscape architecture and regional planning,
as a great modern thinker on a par with Rachel Carson in terms of changing
environmental thinking in this country.
The idea of people looking
in and out of a buildinginteracting through the wallsis a theme
throughout Myers' buildings.
In the early 1960s, Myers says, Philadelphia was at a crossroads,
linking architecture and urban renewal, and the official response, led by city
planner Edmund Bacon Hon84, was infinitely more humane and thoughtful
than what he had seen in Norfolk. His Penn mentors were trying to keep
the old and question what the new architecture would look like, and instilled
in Myers the importance of the architects responsibility to the
public realm. Philadelphia itself was rich in ideas, Myers
recalls, a remarkable place that sparked his interest in cities and the role
of architects as one that is tempered by the circumstance and context
in which one builds.
At Penn, his design-studio classes focused on urban-renewal
projects for the city of Philadelphiatough urban work, Myers
says. The idea of integrating the old architecture with the new echoed what
he had seen at Cambridge and Oxford, but here the social issues were compelling.
Architectural schools reflect the feelings in their cities, and Philadelphia
was then a city of hope, says Myers. Afterward came the riots and dark
years, he adds.
Part of the decline, in Myers mind, was the Universitys
neglect, even rejection, of Louis Kahna remarkable, inspirational
man who was primus inter pares of Myers mentors. It still pains him that,
when the fine-arts schools new building (now Meyerson Hall) was constructed
in 1967, Kahn was not chosen to design it.
Kahns influence on Myers continued after his graduation
in 1964. He worked for him for several years, on such stellar projects as the
Salk Research Center in Southern California and the capitol building in Dakar,
Bangladesh. In 1968, seeing Philadelphias fortunes fade, Myers decided
to start his own practice in Toronto, with A.J. Diamond.
The Citadel in Edmonton,
Alberta established Myers as a leading designer for the performing arts. Photo:
The firms impact on Canadian architecture was extraordinary.
A Canadian newspaper referred to Myers as the unofficial godfather
of much of Canadian architectural design. His work there covers the range of
urban planning and design, large and small buildings, public and private structures.
He designed his own residence, using exposed steel and other industrial components,
and his Wolf house, built in 1974, was recently cited as the Canadian design
that most anticipated the 21st century. Myers also designed museums,
art galleries, and hosts of university and other public buildings in Canada.
His urban work focused on infill buildingshousing and other
structures that were an attempt to knit the urban fabric together, to
enhance the city.
By 1980, he had more assignments in California than in Canada
and when UCLA offered him a professorship, he moved back to the United States.
However, it was one of his Canadian projectsthe Citadel, constructed in
1976, for which Myers won a design competitionthat has led to his current
pre-eminence in the highly specialized field of designing for the performing
Gary Hack, current dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts,
says that much of Myers theater work derives from this wonderful
building in Edmonton, Alberta. Myers continues to experiment with moveable/changeable
spaces for theaters driven by acoustics and the technical needs of different
kinds of performances in his theater work, Hack says. In a larger sense,
his designs show how architecture works as a setting for the drama of
human life. Hack cites a magnificent housing union Myers designed
for the University of Alberta back in the 1960s. The structure has a quarter-mile
glass atrium, with classrooms on the upper level, that shows people acting
out their lives as they go to class, chat in the halls, and move from
one level to another. The idea of people looking in and out of a buildinginteracting
through the wallsis a theme throughout Myers buildings.
Connecticut-based theater consultant Richard Pilbro calls
him one of the finest theater architects in the U.S. today. With
his design for the Citadel, which has a 700-seat main auditorium, a 300-seat
theater and a 250-seat lecture hall, Myers brought back the late-19th century
idea of the importance of intimacy in theaters, adding great individuality
and detail, he says. In the mid-1980s Pilbro worked with Myers on the
Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and then in the early-1990s on the
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, and the two got along like a
house on fire, he says.
The Portland theater, Pilbro says, has an enormous
wealth of detail, a lush mix of timber and wrought iron that echoes the citys
bridges and architecture. That theater seats 900 and is still intimate
yet invigorating, says Pilbro, who works with architects on the functional
planning and technical-equipment side of theater work. He calls Myers
Cerritos project revolutionary. For this site, south of Los Angeles,
he designed a theater with an auditorium that can be used for five different
types of performance and audience sizes by moving large chunks of architecture
about, says Pilbro. Not only can Cerritos be acoustically modified for
performances from rock concerts to dramas, but the auditorium can be configured
to seat as many as 1,950 people or as few as 950.
Myers himself says that Cerritos has been tremendously
successful, and he is surprised there havent been more performing
arts centers like it. Architecture for the performing arts can be the most satisfying
kind of work, he says. You are bringing people togetherartists and
audiences, and you get an immediate thank-you from both.
(Myers got a very public thank-you when the late Frank Sinatra
opened the Cerritos Center. Sinatra said the auditorium was the most beautiful
hed ever been in, and even called for the architect to stand and
be recognized. Sinatra was probably put up to it, Myers says, in
a self-effacing manner, but he seems pleased to tell the tale, nonetheless.)
In all architecture, one needs to think about the
place, the context and the programthe needs, Myers says. For theater
work, the needs are complex and many other expertsacousticians, lighting
specialists, the artists themselvesare part of the process. You
have to listen, then translate all those needs into a building that meets expectations.
He likens the architects position to that of a movie director. You
have to have great people working for and with you, but you have to both listen
and filter out what they want. Myers ideas about responsibility
to the city, his concern about the social implications of architecture, play
a role here, too. In designing performing-arts centers, he says, the architect
helps unite a diverse population in a common experience.
previous page | next