An aerial view of the Central Saint Giles, London, looking east. Piano’s aim was to create a ‘joyful heart’ for the area. (Photograph: Maurits van der Staay)

If bright colours always cheered you up, then entering the blue-and-yellow cabin of a Ryanair jet would be like swallowing a bottle of happy pills. It isn’t.

More often swaths of colour mean that you’re being sold to, or kidded out of something, as in the suave graphics of rebranded financial institutions, or the interiors of Foxtons estate agents, or the policy documents and conference platforms of Blair-era Labour. When it comes to architecture there are few ideas more lame than that bright colours can rescue a dumb building. For confirmation, look for Nottingham University Amenity Building on Google images.

So it’s striking that, late in his career, the Italian architect Renzo Piano should choose to raid the paintbox. Piano has usually traded in highly crafted refinement, working in a palette of white, silver, grey or at most the natural colours of terracotta or wood. He did co-design the Pompidou Centre in Paris with Richard Rogers, but it always seemed that that building’s bursts of primaries came from his ebullient British partner.


Rowan Moore