RENZO PI­ANO, THE PI­ANO LES­SON

The Pullman Magazine - - Contents - TEXT TRISTAN BRODU

YOU’LL AL­WAYS FIND A GREEN MARKER PEN TUCKED AWAY IN HIS JACKET POCKET. HE’S BEEN US­ING ONE FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS TO JOT DOWN IDEAS, SKETCH DRAFTS AND DE­SIGN BUILD­INGS THE WORLD OVER. IN­TER­NA­TION­ALLY AC­CLAIMED AR­CHI­TECT RENZO PI­ANO HAS ALSO DE­SIGNED MORE MU­SE­UMS THAN ANY­ONE ELSE IN THE IN­DUS­TRY, ABLY AS­SISTED BY HIS TRUSTED TEAM. IT’S ONLY NAT­U­RAL THERE­FORE THAT AN EX­HI­BI­TION SHOULD NOW BE DED­I­CATED TO HIS WORK, OF­FER­ING A MUCH-AWAITED BE­HIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT THE SE­CRETS TO HIS SUC­CESS.

Paris goes about its usual

Tues­day busi­ness be­neath grey Novem­ber skies. But at the Cité de l’Ar­chi­tec­ture et du Pat­ri­moine over in the Palais de Chail­lot, one man is catch­ing ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. A tall, slim, white-bearded fig­ure dressed in a crisp blue shirt and small-checked wool jacket, bright eyes sparkling be­hind steel-rimmed frames: Renzo Pi­ano. At 78, the cel­e­brated ar­chi­tect has never been busier. "Do you ever plan to re­tire?" we ask with an imp­ish smile. "Yes, but only when I stop en­joy­ing do­ing what I do. Not be­fore!" Push his own bound­aries, push all the bound­aries is prob­a­bly the creed by which Renzo Pi­ano lives, the very life force that flows through his ar­chi­tec­tural cre­ations. The Pi­ano Method, the ex­hi­bi­tion he is here to in­au­gu­rate, does not set out to be a ret­ro­spec­tive cel­e­bra­tion of half a cen­tury’s work, but rather "a glimpse be­hind the scenes that brings the back­stage team ef­fort into the public spot­light.” Vis­i­tors are, in­deed, likely to be sur­prised by the overtly sim­ple stag­ing. Fif­teen vast white ta­bles fill the space, each ded­i­cated to one of the firm’s award-win­ning cre­ations and laden with mod­els, sketches, sam­ple ma­te­ri­als and ref­er­ence works wait­ing to be pe­rused. You could eas­ily be for­given for think­ing this is ac­tu­ally an ar­chi­tect’s of­fice! Vis­i­tors are even in­vited to sit at the ta­bles, pulling up one of the or­ange fold­ing can­vas chairs that are strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned along­side. Stop­ping and study­ing is ac­tively en­cour­aged when­ever some­thing of in­ter­est catches the eye.

JUST LIKE PICASSO, HIS CRE­ATIONS CAN­NOT BE PINNED DOWN TO ONE SPE­CIFIC STYLE.

Renzo Pi­ano might travel the world but he’s cho­sen to live and work in

Paris. This photo was taken in his ar­chi­tec­tural firm, in the Marais, close to the Pom­pi­dou Cen­ter, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mu­seum he built with his col­league

Rogers when he was just 33.

From New York’s Whit­ney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art to the Niar­chos Foun­da­tion in Athens, Lon­don’s Shard and En­tebbe Hos­pi­tal in Uganda, what com­mon thread runs through the fif­teen projects show­cased at the ex­hi­bi­tion? "Dif­fer­ence," ex­plains Renzo Pi­ano. "Each one bears no re­sem­blance to the others. Each one is a brand new ad­ven­ture, and that’s what un­der­pins all our work." The Pi­ano method, much like Picasso’s, is all about mov­ing freely from one style to an­other rather than re­main­ing con­fined to just one, some­thing the mae­stro achieves by work­ing in con­junc­tion with an ex­ten­sive team of 130 ar­chi­tects of all na­tion­al­i­ties: Le­banese, Dutch, Ital­ian, French and Ja­panese to name but a few. Each time a new project is launched, a hand-picked team is put to­gether with the kind of pre­ci­sion gen­er­ally re­served for ma­jor ex­pe­di­tions. De­ci­sions are driven by where the build­ing will be lo­cated and how it will be used, with each project re­sem­bling a mas­sive jig­saw puz­zle whose pieces need to first be de­signed and then as­sem­bled in turn. Engi­neers and land­scape gar­den­ers also play their part, with the orig­i­nal draw­ings serv­ing as a sim­ple start­ing point and the project no­tably tak­ing shape as the nu­mer­ous mod­els are pro­duced.

"I’VE AL­WAYS PRE­FERRED LIGHT­NESS

TO WEIGHT­LESS­NESS"

Steel, glass, solid stone and soil : Renzo Pi­ano, born into a fam­ily of builders, en­joys ex­per­i­ment­ing with ma­te­ri­als of all kinds. In Noumea, nestling be­tween ocean and la­goon, he has erected bas­ket-like wo­ven cases crafted from the palest of met­als and stretch­ing more than 20 me­tres into the sky to house ex­hi­bi­tion build­ings. In Paris, amidst a clus­ter of his­toric prop­er­ties, he has built a bil­low­ing glass-clad roof re­sem­bling the shell of a gi­ant ar­madillo. In San Fran­cisco and Ron­champ, mean­while, he has cho­sen to adopt a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach, hid­ing his work away be­neath vast green roofs that blend seam­lessly into their sur­round­ings.

"To suc­ceed as an ar­chi­tect, I be­lieve you need to be an en­gi­neer at least as much as an artist" ex­plains the man who ini­tially trained un­der the il­lus­tri­ous Jean Prouvé. Renzo Pi­ano is the de­sign brain be­hind no less than six­teen mu­se­ums in some of the world’s big­gest cities, a lau­re­ate of the Pritzker Prize (nick­named the No­bel Prize for Ar­chi­tec­ture) and was made a Sen­a­tor for Life of the Ital­ian Repub­lic two years ago, yet he con­tin­ues to shun the spot­light. At the Parisian ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently show­cas­ing his work, he chose not to star in the videos that are used to present each project, pre­fer­ring to leave that to his "part­ners”, – his firm’s key as­so­ciates. “He may boast an in­ter­na­tional reputation, but he’s nonethe­less de­light­fully mod­est" says Sis­ter Brigitte de Singly, abbess of the Poor Clares or­der in Ron­champ, whose con­vent he clev­erly de­signed to sit along­side a fa­mous 1950s Le Cor­bus­ier chapel. "What he cre­ated for us”, she adds, “is a cel­e­bra­tion of the in­vis­i­ble. It’s hid­den away in the Ron­champ hill­side yet flooded with nat­u­ral light thanks to huge bay win­dows that over­look the neigh­bour­ing for­est." Could light and air be the com­mon themes that run through Pi­ano’s work? "I’ve al­ways pre­ferred light­ness to weight­less­ness", con­firms the man born by the sea in Genoa sur­rounded by aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing yachts of which his eye has never tired… even­tu­ally in­spir­ing him to de­sign boats of his own.

1. The Tjibaou Cul­tural Cen­ter sits be­tween the la­goon and the Pa­cific Ocean in New Cale­do­nia, and was com­pleted in 1998.

2. The Shard in Lon­don is the tallest tower in Europe. Built in 2012, it stands at a height of 320m.

3. The young Renzo Pi­ano, in 1958, stands in front of Cor­bus­ier’s Ra­di­ant City, Mar­seille. 4. One of the agency’s most re­cent projects, the 2015 ex­ten­sion of the Whit­ney Mu­seum in New York.

5. The Pathé Foun­da­tion’s glass-topped roof, like a bub­ble, em­bed­ded amidst the an­cient Paris rooftops since 2014.

6. This sim­ple and sunny monastery was built in 2011 for a hand­ful of nuns in Ron­champ (France).

THE PI­ANO METHOD EX­HI­BI­TION Un­til Fe­bru­ary 29 2016

Cité de l’ar­chi­tec­ture & du pat­ri­moine 45, av­enue du prési­dent Wil­son, 75016 Paris - France www. citechail­lot.fr/en

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