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

  • 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.

  • Bjarke Ingels

    Different Angles

    “Great buildings blatantly express their true essence to the world.” The lauded Danish architect Bjarke Ingels here shares his personal story and his bold approach to architecture, which he feels should always be playful, generous and empathetic.

  • Riad Sattouf

    On 'The Arab of the Future'

    Franco-Syrian Riad Sattouf here discusses his emotionally honest graphic memoir, praised as ”a classic within its genre.” Sparked by the civil war in Syria, it is told from a child’s perspective, humorously balancing between two cultures.

  • Joyce Pensato

    Advice to the Young

    Homer, Mickey, Batman! Joyce Pensato – known for her unique work inspired by cartoon and comic book characters – here advises young artists to keep at it, love what they’re doing and, most importantly, “show your work, get it out there!”

  • Ulay

    Advice to the Young

    “If you want and need inspiration – go behind the central station.” The iconic artist – and self-proclaimed anarchist – Ulay here advises young artists to avoid art institutions and to make works that meet their own needs rather than that of the audience.

  • George Condo

    The Artist at Work

    The mind of American artist George Condo has been referred to as a place where “Picasso meets Looney Tunes.” Watch him at work in his New York-studio where he draws and paints his take on a 19th century painting by Manet.

  • Ulay

    Under My Skin

    This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

  • Olga Tokarczuk

    I Absorb Stories

    Olga Tokarczuk – one of the most important Polish writers of her generation – here shares how she draws inspiration from others: “People tell amazing micro-stories or even bigger stories. I seize them, absorb them and transform them in my books.”

  • Mika Rottenberg

    What is the Connection

    The exceptional video artist Mika Rottenberg here presents her intriguing video installation ‘Cosmic Generator.’ Set on the U.S.-Mexico border and in a huge Chinese market, the work explores the collapse – or reinforcement – of distance.

  • Svetlana Alexievich

    A Human is a Scary Creature

    Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich is known for her monumental non-fiction narratives exploring war and its aftermath in the former Soviet Union. In this video she discusses the role of the writer in a corrupted society permeated by money.

  • Eileen Myles

    A Poem Says 'I Want'

    “I think a poem really is a statement of desire.” Meet the legendary American poet, writer – and homosexual icon – Eileen Myles. In this video, she discusses the innate power of poetry and how to address the absence of the female genitalia.

  • Sambuichi

    One with the Earth's Cycle

    “Architecture should thrive like a plant.” Gain insight into the philosophy of a frontrunner in sustainable architecture, Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, and hear how he created some of his unique, site-specific buildings.