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Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano: ‘The best things in life are always a little dangerous.’ Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

What are the most important things that the Shard does for London?

Bringing attention back to Southwark. I thought this was a good idea from [former mayor] Ken Livingstone, that you balance the energy of the City by putting something strong on the south bank, in the more poor part of the city. If you are driving around, bicycling around, walking around, you have a new orientation point. I receive many messages from people about this: it is a kind of lighthouse in London. It is quite a surprising element, and providing surprise and wonder is not essential, but it is not a bad thing to do.

It will be the first publicly accessible tall building in London. You have others, but they are not as accessible as this. We have been talking about this from the beginning – making a vertical city, one that does not shut its doors in the evening, that is alive 18 hours a day.

It will change with the weather. I always thought this tower will be a sensor of the city, reflecting the mood. What the Shard does for London is a list of things. I was aware of risks with the project when I took it on, but the best things in life are always a little dangerous.



Rowan Moore
The Guardian


The Astrup Fearnley museum terminates Oslo’s dockside promenade with a swoop

“Art makes people better people,” says Renzo Piano, “and a place for art makes the city a better place to be.”

He is speaking at the opening of the Astrup Fearnley Museum on theOslo waterfront, a new £65m home for the private art collection of ashipping company, which he describes as “an open forum, where art meets life”.

Piano should know about such things. The 74-year-old has designed 17museums and art galleries across the world in his long career, ranging from the revolutionary vertical art factory of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, built with Richard Rogers in 1977, to the refined, low-slung shed of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, constructed 10 years later, to the delicate lightbox of the Fondation Beyeler, erected outside Basel in 1997. Each decade brought a seminal new building that changed the way architects think about spaces for art, cementing Piano’s reputation as a global brand for big museums.

“I see Astrup Fearnley as completing the cycle, almost coming back to the beginning,” he tells me, as we sit in the upper gallery, looking out across the fjord – a picture-postcard view dotted with islands and sailing boats.

“The Pompidou was a rebellion against the idea of a monumental gallery. We were the bad boys then,” he grins. “We didn’t want to make a mausoleum to art. Instead, we created a big piazza for the people, and here in Oslo we have returned to that idea.”

Right on the waterfront, the museum takes the form of a vast glass sail that arcs over to envelop three timber buildings beneath, separated by a canal and terminating the dockside promenade in a consciously iconic swoop. Unlike many of his previous galleries, which take the form of finely tuned if somewhat anonymous containers, Astrup Fearnley is here to play the role of glamorous civic saviour – the cultural anchor for a whole new urban quarter.


Oliver Wainwright

‘It’s not about priapismo’ … the Shard, at 310m the EU’s tallest building. Photograph: Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment

The storm clouds have been gathering over the Shard ever since it was announced, 11 years ago. Now that the building has reached its full height, it has inevitably become a lightning rod. Few structures in Britain have so dominated the skyline or the architectural debate. To its opponents, it has stabbed London in the heart: it is too tall, it destroys the scale of the city, it disrupts historic views, it is in the wrong place, it is a waste of energy – a monument to greed, money, inequality, foreign influence and broken Britain. To its supporters, however, it is a jolt of the modern – the moment London truly joined the 21st century.

Appropriately, on the day its architect Renzo Piano meets me there, the clouds have all but engulfed the building. On a clear day, apparently, you can see 60 miles from the top. This isn’t one of them. Even from the eighth floor, the riverbank opposite is a blur, obscured by fog and a cascade of rainwater running all the way down the sloping windows from the 87th floor. But Piano seems impervious to both the weather and the lightning bolts of criticism. Tall, elegant, relaxed and mellifluously spoken, the 74-year-old Italian looks every bit the internationally renowned architect. Well, almost. Beneath his raincoat, he’s wearing a T-shirt with a pink slogan. “Trust me, I’m an architect,” it says.

“There’s a moment when you need to trust,” Piano smiles, pointing at his shirt. “Because you can’t predict everything. You cannot prove mathematically that what you’re doing is going to work. But you have to be bloody sure – because if you do something like this wrong, it’s wrong for centuries.” He told the judge the same thing during the public inquiry into its planning. “And I was keeping my fingers crossed in my pocket,” he says.


Steve Rose

The Renzo Piano-designed wing stands a respectful distance behind the Venetian palazzo-style museum

In her will Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) stipulated that her museum, which she founded in 1903 and where she idiosyncratically installed her collection of fine and decorative art, remain largely unaltered. A copper-clad, four-storey-high building where a coach house formerly stood was never part of her vision, but this 70,000 sq. ft extension has been added to the museum that bears her name. Due to open on 19 January, the wing has been designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano and has cost $118m…

“For the first time we will have a real exhibition space to focus on certain objects in our collection,” says Oliver Tostmann, the museum’s research fellow, who is due to become the collection’s curator in April. He plans to select one or two objects from the collection each year and show them alongside objects from other institutions in the new space. The opening exhibitions will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the museum’s artist-in-residence programme.

Gardner was able to build a museum for her growing art collection when she inherited $2.1m from her father in 1891. He made his wealth in the Irish linen trade and later in mining investments. Gardner’s peers—and rivals for work by Titian, Botticelli and Michelangelo—included the likes of JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon, or the “squillionaires”, as she called them. “I’ve got the picture habit. It’s as bad as the whisky habit,” she confessed in 1896.


Erica Cooke
The Art Newspaper

‘At first I said no,” says Renzo Piano. “We were very busy. For me, the idea of building a convent next to Le Corbusier at Ronchamp was, in any case, a bit crazy.” Certainly, it must have felt like a big risk. The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp is one of the 20th century’s most treasured buildings, and Le Corbusier a demigod in the architectural firmament; being asked to build alongside this French national monument, an international destination for religious and cultural pilgrims, is like receiving an invitation to knock up a postmodern extension to the Parthenon or St Peter’s in Rome.


Jonathan Glancey

Image courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop

As Greece grapples with its ongoing debt crisis, a major cultural project there is moving forward.

Today, Renzo Piano presented his final designs for the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center (SNFCC), a privately funded project slated to rise on the Saronikos Kolpos waterfront in southern Athens. Construction of the $803 million, 85,000-square-meter building will start later this year and conclude in 2015, at which point the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will transfer ownership of the facility to the Greek government.


David Sokol
Architectural Record

A rendering of the lobby in Renzo Piano’s ethereal glass addition to Kimbell Art Museum, a Louis Kahn masterpiece of Modern architecture, in Fort Worth.

It’s fair to ask if Renzo Piano was fully sane when he agreed to design the addition to Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum.

Kahn occupies a privileged place within the pantheon of America’s great architects, and the Kimbell in Fort Worth, completed in 1972, is his masterpiece. Adding to the pressure, major museum expansions were increasingly coming under fire as wasteful expressions of gilded-age hubris. Mr. Piano is likely to be vilified by both architecture fans and art world purists no matter what he comes up with.

It’s true that Mr. Piano’s design, which will be officially unveiled on Thursday, is not as transcendent a work of architecture as the original Kimbell. Nor does it quite live up to his own masterpiece, the 1987 Menil Collection building in Houston. But Mr. Piano has managed to find that magical and elusive balance between respecting a great work and adhering to one’s own aesthetic convictions. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who might have sought to play up the generational divide, Mr. Piano, who worked for Kahn early in his career, builds his design on the touching, if idealistic, notion of a civilized conversation across the ages.


Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times

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

Renzo Piano’s proposed addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, planned for completion in 2011. (Photo: Renzo Piano Building Workshop)

More than a few eyebrows will likely be raised on Thursday when the Italian architect Renzo Piano unveils his design for the expansion of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here.

The cultural watchdogs of Boston don’t take well to change. And the museum, whose collections haven’t moved since 1924, is one of the most beloved art institutions in this city. Its eclectic array of artworks from the Middle Ages to the early-20th century, displayed in a dazzling faux-Venetian palazzo, stands alongside those in the Frick Collection in Manhattan and the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., as a rare — and intimate — expression of a single collector’s vision.

Well, the preservationists should put away their torches and pitchforks. Mr. Piano’s design, dominated by a four-story copper-clad volume that encloses a 300-seat music hall and a temporary-exhibitions gallery, keeps a respectful distance from the Venetian dowager. And the new building’s strong geometric forms should make a welcome counterpoint to the old one, which, from the outside at least, has always seemed a bit bland.


Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times

De Young Musuem (Photo: Adam Lau / The Chronicle)

California Academy of Sciences (under construction in 2007)

Here’s the difference between architecture and other forms of art: It must be judged by how it functions, as a matter of course, not merely by how it looks or sounds or feels.

And that’s why I’m not totally seduced by the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park – at least not in comparison to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum across the way…

Thus there was just one slot for the big-name, one-of-a-kind edifices that premiered between 2005 and 2008 – a space I reserved for the de Young designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, assisted by San Francisco’s Fong & Chan Architects. The one with the patterned copper skin and the blunt but revelatory observation tower.


John King
SF Gate

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