Giovannitti House 
Woodland Drive 
Pittsburgh 
PA 15217 
USA

Richard Meier 1979-1983

This 2,200 square foot home, Meier's smallest residential project to date, is located in a small sloping site just miles east of Pittsburgh's downtown, within a semi-urban residential neighborhood. Hidden away from major streets, urban activity, and natural landmarks, the site still offered Meier an orienting device. In this case, Meier used a small street at the top of the slope as a point of reference from which to build the house away from, without which some of Meier's residential projects are often found to be lost and lacking in direction. By orienting most of the home's activity away from the street, Meier achieves a simple plan, with an uncomplicated façade. On this subject, Paul Goldberger writes:

"There is temptation to say that Meier's architectural vision is best realized with simple unambiguous programs."

Here, Meier makes use of the slight slope as well as the quiet street as he had previously done with more grandiose orientation devices such as oceans, lakes and extreme slopes. In doing so, he attempts to simplify the program and the home's placement on the site. As a result of Meier's placement of the house (at the top of the slope, with most windows and areas of activity facing away from the street, while providing entering visitors a relatively simple facade) the project ends up working like many of his more successful residential designs, which afford the homeowners privacy as well as expansive views. In the Giovannitti house, however, the views that Meier often affords his clients are simply not available. Frank Giovannitti, who commissioned the house, had to sell half of an already small lot in order to finance the building of his home. The terraces in the Giovannitti house simply look over a small patch of grass, a few trees and another house about 25 feet away. It's as though Meier refused to acknowledge the fact that another house would be built so closely by (though that fact was known during the design process), and decided to solve the project as he had done before for larger projects in different settings, thereby ignoring the realities of the site.

 

Even with its relatively small size, the home serves as a showpiece for Meier's architectural vocabulary up until that point. Clearly seen are the white railings, large tiles and the ever-present piano curve, as well as a garage that is almost identical to that used in his House In Palm Beach (1977-1979). Here Meier shows his ability to create very personal small spaces within volumes that display his style flawlessly, an ability that he was unable to carry out in large projects such as the Getty Center years later. The small home delivers just enough of Meier's trademark tricks, that the viewer is left wanting more. Visitors are left wanting to circle the home, much as one would turn a Rubik's cube to see all its components. Due to its size and economy in those very Meier touches, the home becomes precious and not a rambling narrative like some of his larger projects. Martin Filler (of House and Garden) wrote about the Giovannitti house:

"This is a work of exceptionally high quality, and though at first sight it appears to be more reiteration than origination, a closer look shows just how this extraordinary architect's capacity for variations on a theme can be"

Large areas of stucco have been removed in the back of the house, with rotting wood now exposed underneath, as well as Meier's signature tiles having to be removed since they were caving in and bowing in the back of the house. In general, much of the work being done to the home is in order to sustain its unrealistic, machine-made aesthetic, which 20 years after its completion have all suffered substantial weathering. The home is also having its heating and cooling ducts entirely redone - not surprising if one considers that the very small home has had two oversized air conditioning units off to its side (where original axonometric drawings show stairs which would have descended down from street level to the small back yard) since the beginning. It seems unusual that such a small structure would have to so thoroughly reconstructed only 20 years after it was built.

Even with all these problems in mind, Giovanniti (no longer the owner) said of the house:

"So then, how do I describe living in a Richard Meier house? The answer is light, light, light, light."

And of that there is no doubt. Photographs of the interior show large white walls reflecting light that comes through double height windows. A bathroom in the front of the home features an entire wall made of glass block. The entire garage door is also of glass, and a ceiling features glass block portions that allow even more light to come in. All these are components that Richard Meier has come to be known for, and though he may not be known for his innovations in form, he nevertheless delivers a powerful rendition of his architectural vocabulary in the Giovannitti house.

Bellon 2004 (updated 2010)

 


How to visit

The Giovannitti House is a private residence, and is thus not open to the public. 

The home is located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood (near Chatham College) of Pittsburgh. From I-376 take the Homestead/Squirrel Hill exit, go one block on Forward, make a left on Murray Ave and drive for about a mile. Make a right on Wilkins, and a left shortly thereafter onto Woodland Drive. The house is on the right hand side about a block down.

The home was given an Award for Merit in 1985 from the NYC AIA chapter.


Books and other web sites

www.richardmeier.com is Richard Meier's official web site.

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