NEW YORK • In 1984, at age 49, Richard Meier became the youngest winner of architecture's top Pritzker award.
Now, his reputation in building iconic structures such as the Getty Centre in Los Angeles is at risk of collapsing after five women revealed that he had sexually harassed them.
Confronted by The New York Times with these allegations, Mr Meier said he would take a six-month leave as founder and managing partner of Richard Meier & Partners, considered one of the world's leading architecture firms.
Set up in 1963, its projects also include the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Jubilee Church in Rome.
"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 apologise to anyone who was offended by my behaviour," he said in a statement on the firm's website.
Mr Kent Kleinman, dean of Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning, said Mr Meier's behaviour was "unacceptable" and that it would "decline his new gift to name the chair of the Department of Architecture".
Mr Meier had also established a graduate scholarship - to "recruit and retain the most talented women applicants" - in January to honour the 55th anniversary of his practice. That would also now come under review, reported The Cornell Daily Sun.
The backlash came after four women who had worked for Mr Meier - and another who met him when he was involved with the Getty Centre project - described encounters with the architect, now 83.
Two of the women detailed episodes over the past 10 years in which they were sent to his New York apartment, where he exposed himself.
A third said he grabbed her underwear through her dress at a holiday party. A fourth said he asked her to undress at his apartment so she could be photographed.
A fifth woman, who did not work for the firm, recalled an experience in Los Angeles in the 1980s, when she said she had to flee the architect's home after he forcefully pulled her onto a bed.
Mr Meier was long known to have been flirtatious, but the women's accounts paint a darker picture of a man who harassed women even as he signed on to popular feminist causes, such as a petition to honour Ms Denise Scott Brown, who many think was unfairly denied a share of the Pritzker won by her husband Robert Venturi in 1991.
"He was always chasing women and nothing stopped him," said Ms Lisetta Koe, a former communications manager for the firm.
"He made an attempt to come on to me and I turned him down."
In 2009, during her first week as Mr Meier's assistant, Ms Laura Trimble Elbogen, 24, said the architect, who was then 75, invited her to his apartment to celebrate her new job.
When she arrived, he offered her a glass of wine, showed her photographs of naked women he had taken and asked her to undress.
She declined, left the apartment and said nothing because she was too intimidated and worried about holding her job. But she ultimately did talk to management after she was laid off in what the firm described to her as a downsizing.
Management also heard from Ms Alexis Zamlich, a 22-year-old communications assistant, who said Meier exposed himself during her visit to his apartment that same year. She is said to have received a US$150,000 legal settlement that required the firm to hold sexual harassment training.
She is barred by a confidentiality agreement from discussing the circumstances of her departure. But two people familiar with her complaint said she had been asked to work at Mr Meier's apartment every Friday to help with his collages, which included images of female genitalia.
According to her account, after several weeks, he pulled down his trousers in front of her.
She quickly left. The next day, she met a few other women at the firm, reported what had happened and then told the partners.
Mr Scott Johnson, who served as chief operating officer at the firm between 2003 and 2010, confirmed that he dealt with Ms Zamlich's and Ms Elbogen's complaints.
"We did everything we could to look into the claims and set up a strong sexual harassment policy and training," he said, "which everyone, including Richard, participated in."
The fallout from the revelations has now widened to a decision by Sotheby's to pull the plug on an exhibition of Mr Meier's works at its S2 Gallery in New York.