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Culture

Renzo Piano at The Royal Academy

From London’s Shard to New York’s Whitney Museum, Renzo Piano’s visionary buildings define the cities they occupy. This autumn, his incredible body of work will be showcased in a fascinating new retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, sponsored by Rocco Forte Hotels. Here, RA Head of Architecture and exhibition curator Kate Goodwin reveals its highlights and why Renzo Piano’s buildings are so iconic.

What can visitors expect to see at the exhibition?

“A really immersive look into Renzo Piano’s archive of work, how he works and his creative processes. We have rarely seen sketches of his, large-scale hand drawings and working models on display. The centrepiece is an imaginary island with small scale models of over 100 of his buildings. I hope people are inspired and uplifted, and appreciate the poetry and magic of architecture.”

What was your vision for the exhibition?

“I really wanted to capture all the scales and types of his buildings, from small to huge. People may be familiar with the Shard but they may not know some of his other works. There’s an amazing variety and it was important to show the breadth of his work.”

How did you choose which projects to showcase?

“With over 100 buildings in his portfolio, it was difficult. His career spans almost 50 years so we chose early works right up to present day buildings currently under construction. You can see museums, offices, a music centre and even a children’s hospital under construction in Uganda.”

How do his buildings shape the cities they’re in?

“They can be so unexpected and therefore a catalyst for change and renewal. For instance, the Pompidou Centre in Paris was shocking and controversial when it opened in 1977, but was quickly adopted and loved by Parisians.”

What do you admire about his work?

“I love the complexity and layers to his buildings. He has such a command over the construction process and attention to detail. Each component harmonises and comes together beautifully. I love his Centro Botín arts centre in Santander, Spain. Its surface is covered in ceramic discs that shimmer in the light, so its appearance seems to change by the minute.”

What stylistic elements and codes underpin Renzo’s designs?

“There’s always a flow and lightness to his work that seems to defy gravity. It’s a stubborn force of nature to overcome, and if you can get a building that is intrinsically heavy to appear as though it’s floating, then that’s incredible. A lot of his buildings appear to hover or fly above the ground.”

Do you think Renzo’s Italian origins have influenced his buildings?

“Yes, he’s from the coastal town of Genoa and draws upon the sea a lot. He’s always sailed and designed yachts as well. His archive and foundation are both in Genoa, as well as a beautiful studio overlooking the sea that he built for himself—it’s quite a magical place to be.”

Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings, Royal Academy of Arts, 15 September 2018 — 20 January 2019

Italian architect Renzo Piano poses at his workshop in Paris, 2015

Photo © Francois Mori/AP/REX/Shutterstock