By Barbara Opar
It was International Women’s Day and one of my student assistants mentioned that it has been bothering her for the past year seeing Richard Meier’s name front and center on the two hour reserve stacks which are directly opposite the circulation desk. We discussed the Shitty Architecture Men list from 2018 and how disturbing it is to see it books on these figures being revered. We also agreed that no library should have the right to censor information to its users.
Nonetheless it is an interesting issue particularly in light of the recent college admissions scandal. Last year Richard Meier stepped down from his firm in light of sexual harassment accusations. The firm has decided to continue to be known as Richard Meier & Partners Architects. In a New York Times post from October 9, 2018, an accuser, Stella Lee, commented that maintaining the name “tells me that the partners believe that Richard Meier’s brand will continue to have commercial value going forward.” That remains to be seen as well as how history will view his impact on 20th century architecture. Will his work be selected as often for precedent research? Architecture schools are being asked to diversify and expand the choice of projects studied to include more work by women and/or international examples. Will we see a gradual shift away from his work and that of other architects implicated and included in the Shitty Architecture Men List?
On to the college admissions scandal. Hallmark chose to sever work ties with one of its most popular stars after she was accused of participating in a college admissions scandal. While none of us would consider removing Richard Meier’s books from our libraries, my student assistant wondered if we might put them in storage or shelve them in the regular stacks in order to lessen their impact—sort of out of sight, out of mind. How about publishers? Will publishers stop to consider the allegations against Meier when choosing what subjects to publish? Will more on less books be published on his older iconic designs as well as newer built works? Is that even appropriate to consider his personal life? Can the work stand alone and be viable despite the context?
Libraries are –for the most part- committed to being neutral, to providing access to all kinds of materials. Mein Kampf remains available to patrons. Yet, it can be personally upsetting to see such works in the stacks.
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In the same NY Times post, Lee is quoted as saying: “It is really up to their prospective clients to decide the value of his legacy.” Will students still be directed to Meier’s work? Time will indeed tell.
Barbara Opar is Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries
Photo credit: Olivia Binette