• The Getty Center, a $1 billion arts and research complex strung along an 800-foot-high hilltop overlooking Los Angeles consists of five institutes. Its six low-lying buildings within the 110-acre campus opened in December 1997, after 14 years of design and construction. The project features more than 16,000 tons of cleft-cut travertine, a hard Italian limestone, and metal panels for the upper stories and curvilinear elements to resemble the travertine.

    For its innovative use of masonry, The Getty Center won the 1998-99 International Excellence in Masonry Award in the commercial/industrial category, presented by the Mason Contractors Association of America.

    The 1.2 million square feet of travertine used in the project came from a huge quarry owned by the Mariotti family, 15 miles east of Rome. Stone deposits there are 300 feet thick and have been quarried for centuries. The light travertine on the Getty's exterior and interior is called Classico; the darker stone used on some interiors is called Barco. Both are from different sections of the same quarry.

    Crews fabricated the stone using an automated guillotine-type device designed by architect Richard Meier and the Mariottis. Meier based his modular design on a 30-inch square, the largest piece that could be cut without being crushed by the falling blade. They placed at eye level, for the public to enjoy, fossilized leaves, feathers, and occasionally bones, discovered in the stone.

    Three types of structures were used for the exterior walls:

    traditional steel moment frame

  • concrete shear wall construction
  • braced (rigid) steel-frame wall on top of the shear walls where more height was needed

Concrete walls or metal panels back the travertine panels. Cranes lifted the stones onto scaffolds, and workers screwed or bolted the stones in place.

The open-joint stone system, developed by Meier in his European work, differs from the American technique of sealing the joints with mortar or caulking. By allowing water to drain behind the outer skin, the European method protects the surface from streaking and ensures that buildings remain attractive over time. Each stone panel also was treated with a silicate-based water repellent. In addition, the mortarless system permits each stone to move independently and rotate slightly, which is critical in earthquake-prone Southern California. The Getty is built to resist movement far beyond local codes.

DBM/Hatch designed and engineered the hand-set anchorage system that anchored each stone panel individually. The job required about 250 clip designs. Draftsmen spent more than 3 years creating more than 2,500 shop drawings including every single stone used in the walls and the paving.

Of The Getty Center's 375,000 stone pieces, 40 percent went into the walls and 60 percent were used in paving. Most of the paving stones were honed and unfilled, though the interior stone pavers had a filled finish.

In low-traffic nonpublic areas, some of the stone-paved terraces used plastic pedestals. adjustable in the field to attain the best slope for terrace drainage.

Financed by a $4 billion endowment, The Getty Center is likely the world's richest museum. But every design and construction decision was made by a group, and the budget drove many choices.

The project's high-quality workmanship should help ensure its longevity. With its view of Los Angeles, the Pacific Ocean, and the mountains, this hilltop site truly directs its ambitions high, celebrating permanence, beauty, warmth, and craftsmanship.