From the Tabletop to Taipei: ‘Arete CDC’ Arrives at Richard Meier’s Timeless Tower

This January, a major work has come full circle: Richard has just returned from Taipei, where he and team members oversaw the installation of the monumental Arete at Richard Meier & Partners‘ soon-to-be-completed “Timeless Tower.
“I’ve always admired Richard Meier,” says Richard. “He has his own language — there’s a real honor to working with such a storied architect.”

The Timeless Tower, formally known as the CDC Xin-Yi Residential Tower, was designed by Meier & Partners to, as they put it, “set a new precedent in Taiwan as a private building that dedicates its entire landscape to the public realm.” The tower constitutes a major addition to the Taipei skyline and its downtown, an area at the fore of Taiwan’s burgeoning economic growth. “It’s still a very fresh, raw city,” Richard noted after his travels.

“For the site to be public is very, very unique and makes this project extremely rich,” said Meier & Partners’ Stefan L. Scheiber-Loeis.

As such, Arete is remarkable not only for its carefully deliberated aesthetic and monumental proportions, but for its selection as a highly visible and communally appreciated work of public art in a developing cityscape.

Richard with plaster and stone models of Arete

“I believe as an architect that a building, including its art, has to be very specific to its site,” Sheiber-Loeis said. In Richard’s exuberant Arete, he explained, Meier & Partners found “a counterpart to our very geometrical, strongly defined building with its hard lines, squares, and rectangles.”

Like so many of Richard’s sculptures, Arete has its origins in the marble quarries of Carrara: over the course of nearly two years, what began as a rough-edged, 40-ton block of stone was transformed to align with Richard’s vision of a complex, multi-faceted stonework in harmonious dialogue with a specific urban landscape. Next door to Timeless Tower is the landmark skyscraper Taipei 101, which at 101 stories and 1,671 feet tall, held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004 until 2010. From Arete’s early beginnings as a tabletop plaster model, Richard intended a form that would interact with earth, sky, and water, while gracefully encompassing two entangled themes: the human drive for growth — reaching towards the heavens, as do both Timeless Tower and Taipei 101 — and the power of humility and remaining firmly connected to the ground, figuratively and literally.

“We always felt that the building and the site needed to be grounded,” said Scheiber-Loeis, “stone is the natural material to be grounded, to keep two feet on the ground.”

Arete CDC begins to emerge

Once the sculpture’s general lines were determined in miniature, Richard and the studio team at Carrara’s SGF Scultura worked closely to select and extract a massive block of grey Bardiglio marble from the ancient quarries. Richard chose to work with this particular stone for the interplay it would provide with Timeless Tower’s bleached white facade — unlike white Carrara marble, for example, the deep, textured greyness of the Bardiglio would not be lost when set against the skyscraper. The stone’s rich white veins, however, provide a more subtle complement to the tower, and lend the overall work an additional meditative dimension.

Carrara studio team members with Arete

From here, SGF Scultura artisans used diamond saws to cut the marble into its rough shape. It was then worked over again and again in a process bringing the stone ever-closer to its final form. A close examination of the completed Arete, which stands at 11.5 feet tall, will find reference to its very process of creation, with multiple smooth, flat planes that approximate the angles used to cut the stone from the cliffside — as well as the clean, hard lines of Meier’s tower.

In Taipei, Richard and Scheiber-Loeis were joined by Mario and Luisa of SGF Scultura to deliver Arete to its final home. The team was tasked with the critical task of choosing how to place the work. In keeping with the goal of facilitating a conscientious balance between nature, art, and the cityscape, the sculpture was ultimately arranged so one of its points gestures outwards from Timeless Tower towards Taipei 101, creating a visual link between these two urban giants.

Arete arrives at Timeless Tower

Upon Timeless Tower’s completion this spring, Arete will be the centerpiece of the public plaza that surrounds the tower. Among lush trees, residents and passersby alike can contemplate the work’s multitude of faces and characters: “They’re all very open and fluid,” Richard says, “everybody sees something different.” Not wanting for anything, the plaza will also feature a “Pebble” bench by British artist Ben Barrell, who Richard had the privilege of meeting during his trip. Barrell’s bench will provide viewers the perfect respite from which to enjoy Arete‘s many pleasures.

Installation at the plaza

The dynamism of Arete goes further: installed on an illuminated fountain pedestal of granite, the work has another life after dark: “Those who experience Arete at night will have a different relationship to it,” Richard says, “because of the drama of the lights and water.” Several submerged bulbs light the work from below, projecting the water’s calm rippling onto Arete’s fluid surfaces. “Subliminally,” Richard observes, “the water tells you where the stone came from.” The marble, after all, was formed through the intense pressure of water upon layers of calcium carbonate — dead sea creatures. “Everybody feels the water brings more of infinity to the piece,” says Richard.

Finally seeing the work in its intended setting was a big moment for everyone: “There was more of an impact than even I had expected,” he says. “Perhaps that’s because when you’re working on something for so long, you take it day by day, periodically, and perhaps casually.” A six month construction delay prolonged the suspense: “Finally, it came out of the crate after being in storage,” he said, “and everyone was looking at it like a newborn — we had all been anticipating it for so long.” He continued, “Arete just magnified the empty space, made it come alive,” says Richard. “You stand back and it doesn’t fall away.”

Arete at night