RENZO PIANO, THE PIANO LESSON
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
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.