Posts tagged with "Renzo Piano":

Placeholder Alt Text

Columbia rounds out its Manhattanville campus with Renzo Piano’s Forum

The third of Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s academic buildings for Columbia University is now complete, filling in the first phase of the school’s Manhattanville campus extension in West Harlem. The Forum, a triangular concrete-and-glass building on the campus’s south section, is the smallest of the Manhattanville trio but cuts an impressive, ship-like figure with its concrete entrance “prow." While Columbia’s factory-like Jerome L. Greene Science Center and stepped Lenfest Center for the Arts tower over the three-story, 56,000-square-foot Forum, all three buildings are elevated and glassy at street level to evoke a sense of openness. Whereas the Science Center houses Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and Lenfest now holds Columbia’s Wallach Gallery, the Forum was designed to hold conferences, meetings, public events, and a 4,200-square-foot public café and program space at ground level. On the upper two floors, the Columbia World Projects initiative, which brings university research projects across the globe, will take offices, as will the Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia. “In designing the master plan for the campus and its first three buildings, we wanted to help Columbia as a global university in the city and for the city,” said Renzo Piano in a statement, “so New York’s streets and sidewalks are woven into the fabric of the campus. This is not like the campus of earlier centuries. All the buildings are transparent, open to the public, and have amenities for the local community at street level, including plazas and green spaces for everyone to share.” In mentioning the “campus of earlier centuries," Piano is referring of course to Columbia’s central Morningside Heights campus, which is technically open to the public but bounded by walls and gates. The Forum’s materiality is tied to this openness and its programmatic requirements; the entirely glazed first floor invites in passerbys, and the stepped, precast concrete topper holds a 437-seat auditorium. The auditorium, topping out at 31 feet at its highest point, is clad in rough stone and wood acoustic paneling, while polished concrete and exposed pipes are used on the first-floor common areas. Bright orange carpeting and rounded rectangular windows further delineate the office and meeting spaces from the rest of the building. While every building in Piano’s Manhattanville triptych serve a specific purpose, dialogue with each other in both material use as well as planning, and are now finished, the Forum is far from Columbia’s last West Harlem project. Diller Scofidio + Renfro are designing the Henry R. Kravis Building and the Ronald O. Perelman Center for the business school, both slated to open in 2021, and Columbia still holds several open parcels in the area. Interested in touring the Forum? The building will open its doors to the (ticket-holding) public on October 23 as part of Archtober.
Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano to “reinvent the ancient Athenian agora” in Baltimore

Johns Hopkins University has hired Italian architect Renzo Piano to design a building for its Homewood campus in Baltimore that will “reinvent the ancient Athenian agora for the 21st Century.” Hopkins commissioned the Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genoa, Italy, to design a home for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute, an interdisciplinary center dedicated to “strengthening democracy by improving civic engagement and civil discourse worldwide.”

The Foundation announced in June 2017 that it would commit $150 million to launch a joint effort with Hopkins to create the institute, assemble a faculty, and build a home for it on the Homewood campus. The project is called the Agora Institute because one of its goals is to reinvent the ancient Greek agora, or public gathering place. A budget for the building has not been established. The target completion date is 2022.

At 81, Piano is considered one of the world’s leading architects, with major projects on five continents and awards such as the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the RIBA Gold Medal, and the AIA Gold Medal. He is the subject of a retrospective that opened this month at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Past projects include the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Shard skyscraper in London; and, with Richard Rogers, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. Piano has worked with the donor before to design the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, Greece.

Piano said in a statement that he accepted the commission because he has “great respect” for what the university and foundation want to build. This will be his first project in Baltimore, which has a “sister city” relationship with Genoa. “I was attracted to the Johns Hopkins project for its humanistic nature and also because I have always been interested in making places for learning,” Piano said in a statement. “I am very happy and honored to start this new adventure.”

University president Ronald J. Daniels said he believes Piano is the best choice to design the project. “SNF Agora Institute seeks to reinvent the ancient Athenian agora for the 21st Century,” Daniels said in a statement. “The institute will serve as a forum for scholarly research, the robust exchange of ideas, and for sharing strategies to repair civic discourse and strengthen democracy in America and around the globe.”

As “a visionary who understands the power of public space to foster conversation and create community,” Daniels said, “Renzo Piano is the ideal architect and artist to give physical form to the SNF Agora Institute.”

 

The institute is envisioned as an “academic and public forum” that will bring together experts in fields such as political science, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and history. Its mission, according to Hopkins, is to “forge new ways to address the deterioration of civic engagement worldwide and facilitate the restoration of open and inclusive discourse that is the cornerstone of healthy democracies.”

The building will house a director, 10 faculty members, 10 visiting scholars, and both graduate and undergraduate students. It will be the setting for a wide range of public events, including an annual conference bringing together “representatives of different viewpoints to examine contested public policy issues.” There will be lectures, symposiums, dinners, and performances.

A site for the institute has not been finalized, and Piano is expected to help make that decision, along with determining the building’s size. Given the nature of the project and stature of the designer, officials say, it is likely that Hopkins will want it to be in a prominent location facing out towards the city, rather than buried deep within the campus.

Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano offers his expertise to rebuild collapsed Italian bridge

Renzo Piano has volunteered to help rebuild the recently collapsed Morandi Bridge in his hometown of Genoa, Italy. The world-renowned architect, who serves as a senator for life in the Italian Parliament, told the Observer last week that it’s his duty to respond to the national disaster and that he’d be happy to be further involved not only as an architect but as a citizen of Genoa. Earlier this month, part of the 51-year-old bridge snapped during a rainstorm, causing cars to freefall to the ground and killing 43 people total. The cable-stayed bridge was designed by structural engineer Riccardo Morandi and was considered an engineering marvel in its time. The August 14 tragedy raised worldwide concern over the functional lifespan of many bridges built in the mid-20th century. The Morandi Bridge was one of countless major pieces infrastructure in Italy, the U.S., and across the globe that have become dangerously fragile. Because the bridge was part of an arterial road in Italy, the A10 motorway, it must be rebuilt and has the potential to stand for unity and hope, according to Piano. “A bridge is a symbol and should never fall, because when a bridge falls, walls go up,” he said to the Observer. “So it’s not only physical but metaphorical—walls are bad, we should not build walls, but bridges are good, they make connections.” The architect, who lives in Paris, has an office that he designed in Genoa’s western seaside village of Punta Nave. In conversation with the Observer, Piano recounted growing up in the port city and visiting various construction sites with his builder parents. As a native, he knows what Genoa needs during this time of crisis and wants to offer his expertise. Though it’s too soon to talk about the specifics of a redesign, Piano said he believes a new bridge should convey a message of truth and pride. “It must be a place where people can recognize the tragedy in some way, while also providing a great entrance to the city,” he said. “All this must be done without any sign of rhetoric—that would be the worst trap. But I think we will stay away [from that] and instead try to express real pride and values. That is what Genoa deserves.”
Placeholder Alt Text

San Antonio’s architecture has a bright future illuminated by a rich heritage

When it comes to notable architecture in Texas, it would seem strange to place San Antonio on par with Houston or Dallas. As the second-largest city in the state, San Antonio seems to only mimic the kind of architectural largesse seen in those cities. There are plenty of jewel-like late modern skyscrapers and austere civic buildings by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Caudill Rowlett Scott, and Marmon Mok in the city, but these are not the kinds of projects one would mention in the same breath as Houston landmarks like Johnson/Burgee’s Pennzoil Place and Williams Tower, Renzo Piano’s sublime Menil Collection, or Fort Worth's iconic Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn. A selective itinerary of San Antonio’s past and future architectural projects reveals a steady commitment to buildings with bold, expressive forms that reference the city’s unique environment, history, and culture. Alamo City warmed up to these compelling architectural additions as it expanded during the late 1940s and early ’50s, and became a home to energy and utility companies during the 1970s and ’80s. Funded by philanthropic organizations and influxes of oil cash, many of these buildings are now hidden by giant, swooping highway overpasses, corporate plazas, and other developer-driven projects. Despite the earlier innovative and controversial projects, San Antonio remains overlooked. This will soon change. Newly appointed mayor Ronald Nirenberg has re-energized discussions about creating new housing, battling gentrification, and committing to more public art. This will certainly place a spotlight on San Antonio’s rich architectural offerings while reminding us of how these and other past projects have embodied this city’s distinctive topography, Latino heritage, and dry, arid environment. Emilio Ambasz’s Lucile Halsell Conservatory, completed in 1988 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, is a good starting point. Located on the city’s northeast side, Ambasz’s scheme took advantage of the sunken site with a series of prismlike canopies that appear to rise out of the bermed earth like upturned shards of glass. Each canopy creates its own kind of climate and features particular plant ecologies—architecture designed, as Paul Goldberger observed in 1987, for the interaction between plants and humans. The project is notable for its combination of building, landscape, and infrastructure into a seamless whole. The Lucile Halsell Conservatory accommodated some very particular environmental and topographical conditions, and did so with a formal and technological expressiveness unlike anything that had been built in San Antonio. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio Central Library, completed in 1995, continues in this vein. Here, cubic volumes are stacked at various angles, creating a series of triangular-shaped courtyards intended to be outdoor reading rooms. Legorreta’s debt to Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s minimalist polychromy is clear. Working with the painter Mathias Goéritz, Barragán created spaces framed by walls and surfaces doused in highly saturated reds, blues, yellows, oranges, magentas, and pinks. At his Central Library, Legorreta appears to invert Barragán with a simple, playful interplay of volumes that seem to be wrought from its own color palette as well. The reddish-brown colored cubes appear gutted in some places, revealing inner planes of yellow, blue, and purple. When viewed from the air, the Central Library appears otherworldly, framing circular plazas made from grass and limestone and located on a triangular-shaped site near the geographical center of the city, as if something from another time had arrived here. That a Mexican architect was chosen for this project is important. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations. Over 62 percent of its residents are of Latino origin. The appeal of Legorreta’s Central Library stemmed as much from the need for more public libraries as it did from the desire to reflect the city’s heritage. Though this was the first building in San Antonio designed specifically to reflect the city’s Mexican-American heritage, there are older buildings that expressed the cultural richness so important to the city. The Alamo and the four Spanish Missions (recently designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) all combine Spanish and Catholic influences while referring to the rituals and structures of indigenous peoples. This is to say that San Antonio’s architecture continues to find a way to embody its venerable cultural geography. It also incorporates its distinct environmental geography. San Antonio is a city hewn from mesquite-dappled hills, limestone quarries, and deep-set aquifers. Lake|Flato continues to be the standard-bearer among the city’s firms for a kind of tectonic and environmental sensitivity that is immediately recognizable for its ingenious references to these conditions. Imagine a version of John Lautner’s spacious geometric forms where large cornices made from corrugated metal peer over meticulous compositions of glass, limestone, slats, and brise-soleil made from local woods, all culminating in views that privilege the rolling, arid mesquite and persimmon landscapes of the Texas Hill Country. This would not do justice to Lake|Flato’s work, but perhaps it is as close as we can get to a kind of South Texas regionalism. Yet some of Lake|Flato’s current work points to something altogether different. Their recently completed pavilion at Confluence Park designed in collaboration with Matsys connects the joining of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, to nearby Mission Concepción, an 18th-century basilica. This is a highly-charged site in predominantly Spanish-speaking South San Antonio. The most visually arresting parts of Lake|Flato’s project are the concrete “petals” that reference the local flora while reminding the most architecturally astute observer of Spanish-born Mexican engineer Felix Candela’s sweeping hyperboloid structures, like Los Manantiales Restaurant (1958) in Mexico City’s Xochimilco Park, or the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca (also 1958) in Cuernavaca. Confluence Park is also part of the larger San Pedro Creek Cultural Park. This scheme is projected to transform a once-neglected 2.2-mile-long drainage spur into a cultural attraction with water features, public art, and areas dedicated to the preservation of local grasses and wildlife. In a nod to its aspirations, lead architect Henry R. Muñoz and others have embraced this project’s more common nickname—the “Latino High Line”—which may say more about Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Field Operation’s celebrated scheme than the actual goal of the project, which is to create a version of the Riverwalk devoid of its tourist traffic while celebrating Latino heritage. Urban designers are finding new ways to move San Antonio forward while referring to curious artifacts from the history of American cities. Architect Antonio Petrov, who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the founder of Urban Future Lab, is one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to redevelopment in the city. He is a proponent of bringing back skyrides, which were already used during HemisFair ’68 as a means of connecting the city’s downtown with San Antonio International Airport. Petrov’s proposal, though evocative of pie-in-the-sky urban transportation schemes, is to be taken seriously. Similar proposals were actually in use at the 1932 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago as well as in Disneyland and Disney World (which were, in a sense, attempts to envision cities of the future.) Other schemes, though funded by corporate dollars and serious placemaking advocacy firms, are barely more pragmatic in their approach. A case in point is the proposed Alamo Plaza Redevelopment. Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership authored one of the first master plans, a scheme that caused controversy when it called for relocating many of the businesses surrounding the Alamo and converting them to privately run cultural attractions. Current versions of the plan have done little to improve on the previous proposal. For example, the recent Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan—spearheaded by St. Louis–based “placemaking” firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets; the heritage consulting firm Cultural Innovations; and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand—still hinges on the creation of a pedestrian-friendly “Alamo District” designed to turn this historically charged site into an open-air museum. A previous scheme took this idea a step further by encircling the Alamo with a glass wall, as if preserving this architectural artifact in a kind of amber. There are plenty of other projects that are reenergizing the architectural scene in San Antonio. The city is in a bit of a gut-rehab frenzy, as landmarks like the Pearl and Lone Star Breweries have been renovated as pricey hotels and higher-end restaurants, all with the end goal of molding San Antonio into a destination for design-savvy millennials with money to burn, in hopes they will ditch an Airbnb in the picturesque King William District in favor of the Hotel Emma’s posh industrial-chic. It is in this milieu that Adjaye Associates’ Ruby City arrives as one of the most exciting projects to break ground in the Alamo City. This 14,000-square-foot gallery and contemporary arts center—scheduled to open later this year near the city’s burgeoning arts district—appears as a strange hybrid, part OMA Casa da Musica, part Legorreta Central Library. Adjaye’s building appears as a literal jewel, a faceted brick-red form whose speckled, punctured surfaces make it seem fleeting and otherworldly. But it is anything but that, for this building, which sits precariously on the edge of the one-acre CHRISpark in downtown San Antonio, will anchor the San Pedro Creek redevelopment scheme, and provide the Linda Pace Foundation’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art with a bold, exciting home. Adjaye is still earning accolades for his groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and with Ruby City soon to be completed, this will be the most significant architectural gesture for San Antonio—one that will hopefully inspire an influx of more commissions and projects of a similar caliber. How should we look at San Antonio’s architectural legacies and gestures? It is tempting to stack them up against those in Houston or Dallas, but in doing so, we would risk ignoring how one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States is busy generating its own architectural identity. Don’t call it haphazard, however. The pace of architectural developments in San Antonio may appear slow, but like the city, its architecture is humming busily from what once was an undetectable purr to something greater. This sleepy South Texas city is anything but, and its architecture will demonstrate how this is the case.
Placeholder Alt Text

David Zwirner taps Renzo Piano to design new $50 million Chelsea gallery

Art dealer David Zwirner has announced plans for a new, five-story, $50 million gallery to be designed by Renzo Piano. The gallery will rise on a corner lot at 540 West 21st Street that is currently under demolition. The developer is Casco Development, and the gallery will be linked to a 20-story residential tower but stand as a separate structure. The gallery building will be constructed close to Zwirner's current galleries in Chelsea, which includes one on West 19th Street and one on West 20th Street. Zwirner also owns a gallery on the Upper East Side, and is set to expand in Asia, with a gallery opening in Hong Kong on January 25th. Including the West 21st Street gallery, this would bring the total number of his galleries to seven worldwide. Zwirner indicated that after the opening of his new gallery, he would probably close the gallery space on 19th Street, which he rents. As Zwirner told The New York Times, Piano is "one of my great heroes." Zwirner, who previously worked with Annabel Selldorf on his current galleries, also said that Piano was the developer's choice. While Piano is well known for his museum projects, this will be the architect's first commercial gallery. Zwirner is one of the art world's most successful dealers. This five-story building, with three floors dedicated to gallery space, would serve as a kind of calling card and headquarters for his art empire. While the design process is in the early stages, Piano told the Times that his design would emphasize “a visual psychological connection between the building and the street,” as in his design at the Whitney Museum of Art. The news comes as Zwirner prepares for a 25-year anniversary exhibition, opening this weekend on January 13th. The new gallery is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020, with groundbreaking expected sometime this spring.
Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano design for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures exhibition spaces revealed

This morning, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures released new renderings by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop for its proposed museum space in Miracle Mile, Los Angeles. The design for the complex extends out of the historic May Company Building on Wilshire Boulevard into an adjacent, 140-foot-tall orb. The top section of the globe will be an open terrace and project space housed under a huge arcing glass dome, and the bottom section will be a crimson-walled, steel-encased theater. This theater will feature a state-of-the-art projection facility able to screen 35mm, 70mm, and nitrate prints for an audience of up to one thousand people. All told, the project will cost $388 million to build. The May Company Building, a 1939 structure that epitomizes the Streamline Moderne style, will be home to three stories of exhibition space (two permanent, one temporary). One of these spaces will be an entire floor dedicated to the "Oscars Experience," an exhibit commemorating the annual film ceremony for which the organization is best known. The building was previously home to a satellite space for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, once referred to as "LACMA West," but the Academy inked a long-term lease on the structure and an adjacent parcel in 2014 for $36.1 million. The new renderings show that most of the iconic features of the building will be preserved, including the giant golden cylinder at its Wilshire Boulevard entrance. An additional, smaller theater and a flexible education space will be constructed underground between the older building and Piano's orb. The two above-ground structures will be connected on three levels by glass-encased catwalks. An outdoor seating area will also be build at the ground level of the orb, extending into the central lobby area of the May Company Building. As Kerry Brougher, director of the Academy, told Architectural Record, the museum was designed primarily from a filmmaker's perspective. “I think the fact that the Academy is part of the project makes it take on a different characterization than it might if it were a film museum in Milan or Paris," he said. With completion projected for 2019, the Academy Museum hopes to join the ranks of other movie museums around here and abroad, from the National Cinema Museum in Turin, Italy, to the controversial Lucas Museum, or New York's own Museum of the Moving Image, which Leeser Architecture revamped in 2011.
Placeholder Alt Text

In new book, Victoria Newhouse details the saga of Renzo Piano’s Athens cultural center

The incredible challenges inherent in today’s mega-architectural undertakings triggered my interest in just how such projects are built. More than four years ago I began to track the design, construction, and completion of one of the most ambitious of these, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in Athens. I could not have anticipated in those early days how the global economic crisis and subsequent political upheaval in Greece would affect the story of the $842 million building complex and 40-acre park. Even under these circumstances, the building was completed on time and on budget and is already inundated with visitors, both local and foreign; the new national opera house and national library will open officially this fall.

Almost as soon as I started to research the SNFCC, I was struck by the number of people, companies, and even cultures involved, the largest team I’ve ever seen on a cultural project. Project meetings were a veritable Tower of Babel, with Greek (construction workers) and Italian (the RPBW architects and one of the joint-venture contractors) foremost, and a good deal of English thrown in (many of the special consultants). Most of the time the group worked harmoniously. There were a few disagreements at the outset, but the site remained markedly congenial throughout the five years of construction.

A major reason for this coordination was the universal respect for Renzo Piano. The Italian architect was likened by one member of the Greek teams to “an orchestra conductor for his ability to work with all manner of collaborators.” His visits to the site were like the public appearance of a pop star, with admirers vying to get selfies with him. But there was also the fact that the SNFCC was the only important construction job in a city paralyzed by economic austerity. Seen as a symbol of hope for the nation’s recovery, it provided thousands of jobs in a nation wracked by unemployment. One of the Greek project managers expressed the general feeling on-site: “It’s a first, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Victoria Newhouse’s new book, Chaos and Culture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens was published by the Monacelli Press in May 2017

Placeholder Alt Text

New book tells the story of the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center, but can a building this wasteful really be called “green”?

Last year, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, a 1.28 million-square-foot complex built into an artificial hill in Athens, was inaugurated to great fanfare. The building will provide two institutions, the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera, pristine new homes, and it is a significant addition to the Athens cultural landscape. This year saw a related achievement: the publication of Victoria Newhouse’s Chaos and Culture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, a richly detailed account of the creation of the $800 million complex. The book could have been a dud; after all, as Newhouse herself notes, the realization of the Athens project was “nearly trouble-free.” But Newhouse lucked out, in part because Greece didn’t: The country was in dire financial and political straits for most of the time the complex was in the works, providing the “chaos” of the title. Only the commitment of the deep-pocketed Stavros Niarchos Foundation kept the project on track. But the plan was always that the complex, once completed, would be turned over to the Greek government, which would operate it with taxpayer funds—a result that now seems unrealistic. (Worse, the agreement between the foundation and the government stipulates that if the government fails to meet its obligation to operate the Center, it will refund the foundation’s entire investment in the project—money the government doesn’t appear to have.) So the book became as much a tale of politics and economics as of architecture. And right now, that tale is a cliffhanger: neither the library nor the opera house has fully moved into the building. True, there is some architectural intrigue, usually involving firms other than the always-dependable Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW): Newhouse details the master-planning work of the New York firm Cooper Robertson that preceded the selection of RPBW to design the complex. She then reports that almost nothing of the master plan can be seen in the RPBW design. And she delves into the hiring, in 2013, of the Dutch firm Mecanoo, to rethink RPBW’s library design. Newhouse writes:
The idea that work by Renzo Piano—winner of a Pritzker Prize, among numerous other awards—could be corrected by anyone, let alone a far less known firm, would be surprising under any circumstances. What made it especially so is the stark disparity of styles between the two offices.
But Piano prevailed: “Having initially greeted [Mecanoo founder Francine] Houben with his usual charm, the Italian architect barely glanced at the Mecanoo proposal in late 2013 before rejecting it out of hand.” In the course of writing the book, Newhouse developed expertise on subjects as diverse as the history of philanthropy in the Ottoman world and the acoustical preferences of Southern Europeans. The book is a kind of encyclopedia. But there is one significant lacuna:  Newhouse calls the building “a triumph of environmental sensitivity.” In fact, the building, despite incorporating enough “green” features to achieve LEED platinum status, is inherently wasteful.  First, it’s not clear it was needed in the first place. The Greek National Opera, though lacking a purpose-built home, has performed “with great success” at the Megaron Concert Hall in the center of Athens, Newhouse reports. As for the library, its existing building, also in the center of the city, could handle far more visitors than it received. Consequently, Newhouse writes, “no one was able to realistically define the new library’s purpose.” Neither organization had a director at the time the planning for the cultural center began. And with the country in economic crisis, the entire enterprise, Newhouse observes, “defied logic.” But the Niarchos Foundation was determined to build something important, and its resolve only strengthened when the Greek economy collapsed. True, Piano’s best buildings, including New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, exhibit an inherent modesty (as does Piano himself). But the Niarchos Foundation encouraged Piano to think big. After visiting the Athens site, he decided to give the library and opera separate buildings, facing a modern agora (through a pair of enormous glass facades) and set them into a manmade hill, more than 100 feet high at its peak. “It was an almost childish idea:  I simply lifted the ground’s surface to make way for the architecture,” Piano told the author. Creating the hill would involve building vast retaining walls, moving some 654,000 cubic feet of earth, and protecting all of it against seismic activity. That was accomplished by filling steel tubes with rocks, then hammering the tubes into the earth at 10-foot intervals, creating some 3,500 “gravel piles” in the process. Those processes required vast amounts of energy. Then came the planting of the center’s 40-acre garden, much of it on raised ground, and the extensive irrigation required to keep it alive in arid Athens—a process that involves both pumping water uphill and passing it through a reverse osmosis desalinization plant. The hill, that “childish idea,” is a grown-up energy consumer. Overall, operating the cultural center will require 14 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, Newhouse reports. Producing that much power through the burning of coal—the predominant source of electricity in Greece—will create some 30 million pounds of CO2 or its equivalents, according to the best available figures. That’s about as much 1,500 average Greeks produce each year. True, setting the building in a hill could reduce the cooling load by as much as 7%, Newhouse reports. But counting that as an environmental victory is like counting gambling winnings while ignoring losses. And, true, the vast building has a substantial photovoltaic system. In fact, after the artificial hill, its most prominent feature is the canopy atop the opera house, a kind of flying carpet supporting 87,000 square feet (about two acres) of photovoltaic panels. That certainly sounds green. But the panels, even with the latest technology, will produce just 2 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, or about 15% of the building’s needs. (And that’s if all goes well.) And even that power isn’t “free,” environmentally speaking. Thirty steel columns, braced by diagonal cable ties, support the p.v. panel-covered canopy, which is estimated to weigh 4,700 tons. The carbon footprint of structural steel is enormous. And solar panels themselves require energy to fabricate, transport, and install. There is no free lunch, energy-wise. Making matters worse, the Center is two miles from the nearest subway stop. Hard to reach by public transit, it contains 1,000 parking spaces, evidence of its reliance on private cars. LEED doesn't take any of that into account. It is essentially a checklist system, conferring points for “moves” like providing bicycle racks and using recycled building materials.  Whether the building should have been built in the first place; whether it could have been built closer to public transportation; or could have been significantly smaller than it is—the big-ticket items, environmentally—are the very issues LEED ignores. Of course, I understand the need for symbols, which can help uplift societies (especially societies as troubled as 21st-century Greece). And I believe that the Niarchos Foundation had the best intentions when it vowed to make the building green.  But the building it built is anything but green, and LEED is its enabler. With its “platinum” imprimatur, LEED sends a message that even unnecessary buildings, on sites ill-served by public transportation, and requiring vast amounts of energy to build and maintain, are good for the environment. Which, at this time of climate crisis, triggered by energy consumption, is a dangerous message to send. Chaos and Culture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens is available from Monacelli Press.
Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ culture factory for the people: a building that at 40 years old, still looks to the future.

"Life begins at forty!" say most with a glint in their eye and a glass of bubbly in raised hand. That phrase though, belongs to those who know they will not live much past twice that age—if they're lucky. Inaugurated to the public in Paris on January 31, 1977, and celebrating its 40th birthday today is The Pompidou Center. Its architects, however, imagine a far greater lifespan for their building: Renzo Piano hopes it will last for two millennia. "We believe that the life of this building will be 2,000 years so we don’t care so much about 40 years," said Piano speaking to Rowan Moore in The Observer. "The Colosseum is still there so I don’t see why it won’t be still there." Both Italian-born architects, Piano and Richard Rogers (the latter settling in England during WWII) led the design team behind the now iconic building. The pair worked alongside architects Gianfranco Franchini and John Young, also from Italy and Britain respectively, as well as Arup engineers. Though much-loved and well-visited today, the Pompidou Center suffered a rocky start when completed forty years ago. "Not many outside the charmed circle of modern architecture have even heard of Archigram and of its apocalyptic struggles in an unresponsive society," said Reyner Banham in the year of the Pompidou's opening. "...You don’t go to Paris to look at post-Corbusian modern architecture. Why then was the [Pomoidou Center] built to this sort of design?" he questioned. Back then, as it still does so today, the Pompidou rises up above the enclaves of its Haussmannian surroundings of Paris' 4th arrondissement. Tall buildings in the French capital are seldom met with open arms and the 149-foot-tall structural behemoth was no exception. Despite its sheer mass detracting from this notion (it's 544 feet long and 197 feet wide), even President Pompidou who commissioned the building was struck. Rogers recalled his reaction: "all he said was “Ça va faire crier” [This is going to make a noise]." The flower-power foursome, however, weren't deterred. Building on the radical architecture conceptualized by Archigram (Plug-in City) and Cedric Price (Fun Palace), and even built by Eb Zeidler (Ontario Place), Rogers and Piano sought to propose an essentially living building. Within their monumental megastructure, floors would move up and down, escalators would propel visitors up the side of the facade and screens would display messages to the masses. The Pompidou Center was to be a factory of culture. (Interestingly, Piano used this metaphor to describe his science center for Columbia University completed last year.) Sadly, only the escalators prevailed, but the structure remained an icon of "inside-out" and "high-tech" architecture. It's active facade, visibly alive with visitors milling around, also showcases an array of structural detailings. With this external framework set for an amalgamation of complexities, Piano and Rogers originally planned for the structure to be able to have parts easily added to and taken away. The factory would change with technology. This too, however, was never realized. Their approach also perhaps reflects part of Piano's childhood past. Growing up, his four other brothers were all builders. In an interview with The New Yorker, Piano recalled how his father questioned his teenage desire to be an architect and not a builder. "Keeping the action together with the conception is maybe a way to feel less guilty," he contemplated in 1994. The ideas found in the Pompidou can still be seen in Piano's work today. Extensive fenestration, openness, and proud and explicit tectonics are all prevalent themes throughout his projects. Perhaps this is because he sees the Pompidou Center more than most architects. The office of his namesake's firm (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) and even his apartment are located in the Marais District, a few blocks from the former Center Beaubourg site. While massive in scale though, the Pompidou Center doesn't fill all the space it was allocated. A sloping plaza which backs onto a series of unmissable air vents (which, in turn, outline the perimeter footprint of the center) allows the public to watch the goings on inside. In fact, 118,400 square feet of glass was used to compose the plaza-facing facade. On the roof, visitors can still enjoy vistas over Paris in all directions, taking in rare views over rooftops and onto the Eiffel Tower. Such egalitarian ideas had roots in Rogers' architectural education. Under the leftist stewardship of Paul Rudolph and Buckminster Fuller, Rogers studied at Yale where he befriended fellow compatriot Norman Foster. Foster later went on to design high-tech architecture evocative of the Pompidou Center himself (see the Renault Distribution Center, 1982), reaching similar architectural heights in the process. The left-leaning ideas Rogers ingested, meanwhile, manifested in his and Piano's only collaboratively designed work. This was no chance occurrence. The pair felt they could win the favor of Jean Prouvé, a member of the awarding jury who preferred social housing to extravagant culture palaces. “We saw that it might also be about ethics, people, society," said Piano. "We were young but we were not stupid. We saw some sign of a possible miracle.” (Side note: Philip Johnson was also a jury member) Rogers' and Piano's meeting, however, was arguably more fortuitous. In 1969, when at the Architectural Association in London presenting his exhibit on light-weight structures, Piano bumped into a doctor for whom Rogers had designed a dwelling. The doctor, while worried one of his sons had given Rogers chicken pox, took Piano to meet Rogers. Rogers would later describe Piano and himself as "probably as close together in outlook as any two architects around." They both went on to win the Pritzker Prize. 1969 was a momentous year for many reasons. Warren Chalk of Archigram wrote an article titled: “Owing to lack of interest, tomorrow has been cancelled.” A riff on Irene Kampen's title, Chalk inferred the diminishing possibilities of a technological, utopian architecture. In France, Georges Pompidou was announced as President. As Banham suggested, Pompidou probably hadn't read Chalk's brooding, and so threw caution to the wind. With the dust still settling from the 1968 May riots which had brought social upheaval, a snap election and a veer to the left, Pompidou furthered former President's Charles de Gaulle's idea for a free library on the Plateau Beaubourg in Paris. Pompidou also demanded that the building also became a center for the contemporary arts as the French capital feared its waning prowess in the art world. A competition was launched and 681 entrants from 49 countries saw their chance. Piano, Rogers, Young and Franchini—all in their early thirties—emerged as the unlikely victors. The group's submission, like Piano and Rogers' meeting, also rode its luck as it erred on the verge of not happening at all. Rogers opposed the idea of submitting, being more interested in a competition for a smaller museum in Glasgow. In what Piano described as a "beautiful little memo," Rogers outlined his case. "Being an old lefty, I didn't believe in a centralized, government-run art center, and certainly not one built in the heart of Paris," he said in 1994. Thankfully Piano, structural engineer Ted Happold, and Rogers' former wife Su were able to twist his arm. While its initial ill-favor is well documented, one wonders if the reaction would have been different had the Pompidou Center been completed earlier. With the spirit of '68 still fresh in everyone's minds, its values would have been both more apparent and relevant. Georges Pompidou did not live to see the building's completion and was not there to vouch for it. A decade after the center was built, however, another president, Francois Mitterrand, also shared Piano and Rogers' skyward vision. In 1987, Mitterand inaugurated a clock that counted down to the end of the century. "A nation must orient its gaze toward the future," he said. While that milestone has passed, no one has yet put a clock to countdown to the Pompidou Center's 2,000th birthday. A two-year renovation in 2000 saw enlargements made to the center's performance spaces, museum, and restaurant. Though this also resulted in visitors having to pay to use the exterior escalators, the center hasn't lost its appeal. At forty, the culture factory is still functioning. Still the biggest museum for modern art in Europe—boasting more than 50,000 works from 5,000 artists—the Pompidou Center continues to attract tourists in their droves—averaging around 3.8 million a year—from France and across the world.
Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano to lead reconstruction efforts after Italian earthquake

Although rescue teams are still in the process of recovering the injured and deceased from the rubble, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has announced that acclaimed Italian architect Renzo Piano will lead the country’s recovery from a disastrous 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto on August 24th. Piano, who was appointed an Italian senator for life in 2013, has deep experience working with UNESCO and in earthquake zones from Japan to California. He will be joined in his task by local governor Vasco Errani of Emilia Romagna, who has been appointed as a special commissioner to oversee post-quake reconstruction. Errani headed a similar reconstruction effort after a series of earthquakes rocked his region in 2012, leaving 27 dead as well as thousands without homes. Piano’s reconstruction plan features a three-pronged approach. First, over the next six months 2,900 displaced residents—currently occupying 58 tent encampments—will move to semi-permanent, lightweight wooden shelters. Second, Piano projects taking six to eight months to rebuild the affected areas. The third prong of Piano’s plan involves bolstering seismic regulations across the country, with the goal of making existing structures like homes, public buildings, and cultural sites more earthquake resistant. Piano spoke with The Guardian, underlining the urgency of the developing situation, saying, “We have to act quickly, with the utmost urgency. Anti-seismic requirements must be inserted in the laws of the country to make our homes safe, just as it’s compulsory for a car to have brakes that work.” As has been true in previous, large-scale earthquake events, unreinforced and masonry structures are often to blame for a large percentage of overall deaths. Italy, with its large stock of old and ancient brick structures, as well as a thriving informal construction culture, is especially susceptible to seismic events. The improvement of seismic regulations is an intergenerational project Piano envisions taking place over the next 50 years. Piano went on to tell The Guardian, “We are speaking about the ridge of the Apennines, the backbone of Italy from north to south, an operation projected over 50 years and two generations,” he said. “We are talking about millions of buildings, it is not impossible if you work through generations.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano’s Whitney is an architectural “tourist trap”

When the new Whitney Museum of American Art opened on Manhattan’s West Side a little over a year ago, critical reactions were mixed. Like the majority of contemporary commentary, much of the critique was aimed at the outside of the building. There was also praise for an interior that defers to the art and a bit of positivity about the views. Some gushed about how daring it was for a building to physically engage with its surroundings at ground level.

However, a year after the initial “wait and see,” it is time to call the Renzo Piano–designed Whitney building what it really is: An architectural tourist trap. It is the conceptual built equivalent of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar (GAKB) in Times Square.

What does a tourist trap do? Like any good tourist trap, the Whitney relies too much on its surroundings. The site at the apex of the High Line along the Hudson River is one of the best in the city. An architect would have to try hard to not have great views. Putting a few couches along floor-to-ceiling windows is not a world-class experience—most locals can get sixth-floor views from a friend’s roof or balcony. Like GAKB in Times Square, the Whitney has such a good location for its purpose that it doesn’t actually need to do anything to attract visitors. It is just there, housing an awkward collection of early modern art—good Hoppers and mediocre Ruschas.

Because it is a tourist trap, it also doesn’t need to inspire anyone to come back. What about this museum makes us want to visit again? We come for Piano, much like diners come for Guy. At GAKB, there is not decadent, diner-inspired food, only limp lettuce and uninspiring Caesar dressing. At the Whitney, where are Piano’s poetic details? Where is the tectonic novelty? What happened to the inventive, integrated systems and materials? The Whitney is all of the bad things about Piano’s work: It is washed-out and soulless, without any of the Piano magic. How can we connect to it?

The outdoor spaces seem arbitrarily proportioned and like afterthoughts. We might find the under-designed railings at an institutional building or a second-rate theme park. The oft-heard excuse is that this is part of the industrial heritage of the site, and is meant to evoke being on a fire escape. Yes, beloved industrial buildings and fire escapes have fine characteristics—materiality, the patina and layers of time, spatial experiences with compression, release, and difficult corners, and odd juxtapositions of railings and stairs—the Whitney has none of these. Instead, it is all out of scale, sterile, and unengaging.

The tourist trap analogy is not one of immediate political context. Yes, many of the visitors to the Whitney are tourists. But the point is that the building has nothing to offer beyond its celebrity status.

Deferring to the art is not an excuse. What if the Four Seasons had “deferred” to the food? What if the Ford Foundation had “deferred” to people working? An off-the-shelf metal shed can do a fine job protecting farm equipment, but isn’t the landscape better off with some actual design? The condos on the Williamsburg waterfront are amazing places to hang out, cook, and enjoy the views. It doesn’t mean they are great architecture.

Connecting with the city and functioning properly should be baseline requirements of a building, not something to hold up as great architecture. We should demand more exciting design and value it as part of the gesamtkunstwerk of a museum: art, architecture, and city in harmony to create a place, as well as an experience. Manhattan already has a problem with stale homogeneity; we need to demand that architects and clients not contribute to it. After all, no one ever said it was form or function.

Placeholder Alt Text

Renzo Piano’s embattled “Paddington Pole” tower heads back to the drawing board

Those who campaigned against Renzo Piano's cylindrical skyscraper in Paddington, London,  are celebrating a victory now that plans for the tower have been withdrawn from planning. The tower, dubbed the "Paddington Pole," was set to top out 834 feet (72 floors) and rub shoulders with the Cheesegrater (The Leadenhall Building by Richard Rogers). Developer Sellar Property Group, which also worked with Piano on the Shard skyscraper, claimed the cylindrical tower would change the way Paddington is viewed, with the public no longer seeing the area as a place to catch a train to the west country or visit someone at St. Mary’s Hospital. However, Sellar Property Group was accused by residents of attempting to push the scheme through planning too quickly. Now, according to BDonline, founder Irvine Sellar has said that he considered concerns regarding “the height and impact of the tower element of the scheme on the local area.” This came after some “high level discussions” (no pun intended) with the leader and deputy leader of Westminster city council addressing the height issues. Sellar is supposedly keen to work with Piano on a revised design. https://twitter.com/CampaignSkyline/status/693391588165316608/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Sellar went on to note that the revisions “will bring forward an amended scheme that will still deliver all the substantial benefits including the significant investment in infrastructure and social housing.” The 830-foot-tall scheme by Piano—who had previously said the only way to regenerate the area was to build a tall tower—had attracted fierce opposition with architects Terry Farrell and Ed Jones among hundreds who posted comments on the application. An online petition has attracted more than 1,800 signatures. Aside from opposition from architect Terry Farrell and local MP Karen Buck, one of the more prominent movements against the "Paddington Pole" was Historic England. “Tall buildings can be exciting and useful. But if they are poorly-designed, or in the wrong place, they can really harm our cities," Historic England CEO Duncan Wilson told the Guardian. "We trust that the revised plans for Paddington Place will take the area’s unique character into account.” “London’s skyline is unique, iconic and loved. It has to be managed sensitively and with proper planning,” he added. “Tall buildings can be exciting and useful, but if they are poorly designed, or in the wrong place, they can really harm our cities. We trust that the revised plans for Paddington Place will take the area’s unique character into account.” The proposal had promised a new Bakerloo line ticket hall for at Paddington station, offices, restaurants, some 330 homes and a sky garden. It had the backing of Network Rail, Transport for London, St Mary’s Hospital, the NHS, and the Greater London Assembly. Still, Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster council, was pleased at the decision to withdraw plans. “This is a very positive step and will allow time for us all to bring forward a development that enjoys broader community support and that we jointly believe will deliver enormous benefits to Westminster and London," she told the Guardian. "We remain committed to ensuring that all the benefits of the original scheme are retained in the revised plans.”