In a profession notorious for its longstanding gender inequity, many had begun to wonder when architecture’s #MeToo movement would take hold. It seems that reckoning may be just beginning to snowball: Five women have come forward to allege American architect and Pritzker laureate Richard Meier, 83, of sexual harassment, according to a breaking story from the New York Times.
Among the alleged victims are four former employees of his firm, Richard Meier & Partners LLC, and an employee of a client, the Getty Center. Meier has cited an immediate leave of absence, in a press release now posted publicly on his firm’s website. The news follows an account of sexual abuse by the late Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri, who died in 2013; his daughter, Daniela Soleri, came forward in a personal essay published just last November.
Says Meier in the statement:
I am deeply troubled and embarrassed by the accounts of several women who were offended by my words and actions. While our recollections may differ, I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my behavior. Effective today, I am taking a six-month leave of absence as Founder and Managing Partner. I am leaving the company in the hands of a dedicated and outstanding senior management team, which has spent the past three decades serving our clients and building our firm’s success.
In accounts shared with the Times, Meier—for decades, a powerful figure in the architectural profession with notable works including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles—had systematically abused his power with female colleagues both within and outside of his firm. Among the alleged transgressions, he inappropriately grabbed a woman’s underwear at a company holiday party; invited women to be photographed naked at his apartment; exposed himself to assistants; and had a staffer regularly come to his apartment on Fridays “to help with the architect’s collages, which included images of female genitalia,” before making an advance on her. Another woman described an incident as far back as the 1980s, in which she fled Meier’s apartment after being forcefully coerced into his bed.
“He was always chasing women, and nothing stopped him. He made an attempt to come on to me, and I turned him down,” Lisetta Koe, a former communications manager at the firm, told the Times. Among staffers, Meier’s reputation for misconduct preceded him behind closed doors. Following allegations of sexual harassment against Meier in 2009, Alexis Zamlich, then a 22-year-old communications assistant, received a $150,000 legal settlement that also required the firm’s staff to undergo sexual harassment training.
As of today, four associate partners will oversee operations at Meier’s New York headquarters; Michael Palladino, head and partner of the Los Angeles office, will manage all projects.