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: http://www.rpbw.com/

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

Photos:
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
Laurent ZYLBERMAN
Francesca Avanzinelli

© Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

  • Riad Sattouf

    Advice to Young Cartoonists

    Watch the acclaimed cartoonist Riad Sattouf draw while sharing his advice for colleagues: “Be careful with advice, it’s not always good. Find your own way of expressing yourself, everything is acceptable, there’s no one good way to draw or not draw.”

  • Jean-Marc Bustamante

    The Notion of Landscape

    “I think art is not very useful, it’s a question of what you feel.” Watch the acclaimed French artist and photographer Jean-Marc Bustamante, who merges photography and painting, and whose starting point is always the concept of landscape.

  • John Giorno

    A Visit to the Poet

    “Poetry never dies. You can’t kill poetry.” We called on John Giorno – one of the most influential figures in contemporary performance poetry – in his legendary home on the Bowery in New York, to talk about the innate freedom and possibilities of poetry.

  • John Giorno

    Inside William Burroughs' Bunker

    Step inside ‘The Bunker’ in New York, the windowless former apartment of legendary writer William S. Burroughs, and let yourself be guided around – from Burroughs’ typewriter to his shooting target – by its current resident, iconic poet John Giorno.

  • Colson Whitehead

    I Have to Know the Destination

    “I became a writer once I realised no one liked my stuff.” Watch Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey’s favourite author, Pulitzer Prize-winning Colson Whitehead, on how rejections of his first stab at a novel made him realize that he wanted to pursue writing.

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • 11 Artists

    First Encounter with Art

    “That was the beginning of my film and photography career – my first image ended up under the Russian soldier’s boot.” Watch Jonas Mekas, Laurie Anderson, Paul Auster, Gerhard Richter and 7 other acclaimed artists on how they began their career.

  • Ulay

    How I Stole a Painting

    The story of one of the most radical performances in art history told by German artist Ulay, who in 1976 decided to steal Hitler’s favorite painting from Berlin’s national museum and hang it in the home of a Turkish immigrant family.