Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano

On the Shoulders of Giants

In-depth biographical interview with the Pritzker prizewinning Italian architect Renzo Piano – known for celebrated buildings such as The Shard and Centre Georges Pompidou – who explains why it’s okay “to steal” as long as you give something back.

“What keeps people alive is not what you’ve done, what you’ve been, but what you will be and what you will do.” Piano feels that one must avoid falling into the trap of nostalgia by thinking too much about one’s roots and past. Born in Genoa, he feels that the sea and its connotations are part of what shaped him: “The sea is like a mysterious place to go one day, so you grow up with this idea to run away one day, and to discover the rest of the world.” Moreover, compares the sea to a soup, “a consommé of different cultures.”

“It’s very funny, because as an architect, at a certain age, when you travel you feel at home everywhere.” Piano, who considers himself to be a European rather than an Italian, feels that that travelling is extremely important, because it allows you to get away from what you’re doing, permitting you to see it more clearly when you return. As an architect, you can’t simply be “a tourist”, but you need to understand and listen – not only to people, but also to places, as places too have a story to tell. In continuation of this, he emphasizes that “young people should travel to understand how lucky they are to be born in a place where you live on the shoulders of giants. You live on the freedom that was build up in centuries.” If you don’t go away, if you don’t travel, you don’t understand how lucky you are. Moreover, it is important that you appreciate that diversity is a value, not a problem, and what makes us grow, learn – and steal: “Stealing, I know, is not nice, but if the condition is that you give back, it’s not that bad.” When young people come to work at Piano’s offices, what they’re told is to “take, take away – don’t wait for us to give you, take. But if possible, give back one day.”

“Architects don’t change history, but they witness the change of history.” Architects give a shape to the change, which is why public buildings are so important and apart from being good craftsmen, architects need to master the social aspect: “You are not just a builder, you are also a civic person, so you make a shelter for human beings and human communities. And this becomes even more interesting, because then you make buildings that are for people to stay together and to share values, which is the beginning of maybe making a better world.” In continuation of this, though the war didn’t affect him directly, Piano (b. 1937) grew up with a pacifistic attitude, which has stayed with him ever since: “Making a great building is a civic gesture – a gesture of peace.”

Renzo Piano (b. 1937) is a lauded Italian architect. His most known buildings include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, The Shard in London, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In 1998, Piano won the highly prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, the jury comparing him to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, praising him for “his intellectual curiosity and problem-solving techniques as broad and far-ranging as those earlier masters of his native land,” and crediting him with “redefining modern and postmodern architecture.” In 2006, Piano was selected by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. For more see:

Renzo Piano was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at his offices in Paris, France in November 2017.

Camera: Mathias Nyholm
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Cover photo: The Shard, London by Renzo Piano
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017

Supported by Dreyers Fond

Mathias Nyholm
Denancé, Michel
Sky Front's
Shinkenchiku-sha Co.
Nic Lehoux
Shunji Ishida
Sergio Grazia
Fregoso & Basalto
Studio fotografico Merlo fotografia aerea
Chris Martin
Christian Richters
Piano & Rogers
Vincent Mosch
Enrico Cano
JohnGollings - Gollings Photography
Francesca Avanzinelli

© Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

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