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August 09 2012

Why Renzo Piano's Shard is out of tune with London's historical heart

Renzo Piano's innovative buildings in Genoa are deliberately invisible from the city's atmospheric medieval and baroque district. So why has London let him break his own rules?

The eminent curator Norman Rosenthal had his say on the Shard this week. To Rosenthal, it is the most beautiful building put up in London since St Paul's and its critics – he quotes me and Simon Jenkins – are hidebound stick-in-the-muds who just do not appreciate the genius of Renzo Piano.

I am sorry to disappoint Rosenthal but I've seen plenty of Renzo Piano's works around the world. I like and admire them. I know enough about him to wonder why he has abandoned his own delicate sense of scale and space in his assault on London. Why has he departed so violently from the civilised standards I associate with his architecture?

In Houston, Texas, the Menil Foundation is a lovely example of Piano's architectural talent. I went there in stifling summer heat. This low-slung art gallery is like an idealised, airy ranch house set among continually watered green lawns. White and calm outside, it creates a soothing, contemplative, space inside. It contrasts beautifully with the characterless forest of glass towers at the heart of Houston. It is an environmentally radical building that seeks to renew the neighbourhood around it.

In Genoa, Italy, another of my favourite buildings by Renzo Piano can be found in the riviera city's old harbour. It is the most beautiful aquarium in the world, a wonderful succession of spaces next to the sea. It's not much from the outside, but sharks and octopuses have never been given such a graceful home by their human captors. Aquariums are usually dark and claustrophobic. This one is light and spacious and creates a rich, thought-provoking encounter between humanity and nature.

It is part of a project by Piano – who is Genoese – to revive a derelict waterfront by restoring old buildings and adding his own, which also include a biosphere and an octopus-like branching viewing tower. In short, Renzo Piano has done wonders for his own city.

But wait. Where is the awe-inspiring skyscraper in the heart of Genoa? Where is the towering glass spike next door to the medieval houses of the Doria dynasty?

Piano's innovative buildings in Genoa are totally, intentionally, invisible from the city's densely built and atmospheric medieval and baroque heart. You have to walk through all the narrow streets of black-and-white palaces, right down to the harbour front, to find his works. Far from a modernist who has contempt for the past, Piano is revealed in Genoa – and Houston – as an architect who builds with sympathy for the fabric and atmosphere of cities.

The idea that Genoa would let him build something as out-of-scale and arrogant as the Shard in the heart of its historical district is absurd. Why would a city spit on itself in that way?

Why indeed. Piano on his home turf builds for people, not for power. London let him break his own rules, with consequences that are here to stay.


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June 13 2012

The Shard: Renzo Piano's great glass elevator

It is has transformed the London skyline, but the giant Shard faced hostility all the way. Its Italian architect Renzo Piano meets Steve Rose on the eighth floor – and answers his critics

The storm clouds have been gathering over the Shard ever since it was announced, 11 years ago. Now that the building has reached its full height, it has inevitably become a lightning rod. Few structures in Britain have so dominated the skyline or the architectural debate. To its opponents, it has stabbed London in the heart: it is too tall, it destroys the scale of the city, it disrupts historic views, it is in the wrong place, it is a waste of energy – a monument to greed, money, inequality, foreign influence and broken Britain. To its supporters, however, it is a jolt of the modern – the moment London truly joined the 21st century.

Appropriately, on the day its architect Renzo Piano meets me there, the clouds have all but engulfed the building. On a clear day, apparently, you can see 60 miles from the top. This isn't one of them. Even from the eighth floor, the riverbank opposite is a blur, obscured by fog and a cascade of rainwater running all the way down the sloping windows from the 87th floor. But Piano seems impervious to both the weather and the lightning bolts of criticism. Tall, elegant, relaxed and mellifluously spoken, the 74-year-old Italian looks every bit the internationally renowned architect. Well, almost. Beneath his raincoat, he's wearing a T-shirt with a pink slogan. "Trust me, I'm an architect," it says.

"There's a moment when you need to trust," Piano smiles, pointing at his shirt. "Because you can't predict everything. You cannot prove mathematically that what you're doing is going to work. But you have to be bloody sure – because if you do something like this wrong, it's wrong for centuries." He told the judge the same thing during the public inquiry into its planning. "And I was keeping my fingers crossed in my pocket," he says.

The inquiry approved the Shard on the strength of its exceptional design. Realising he had a golden opportunity to build something super-tall, the developer Irvine Sellar had been advised to get a highly credible architect after his first proposal, by Broadway Malyan, was mauled by the press. He appears to have trusted Piano a great deal. The tapering, faceted form of the Shard, referencing London's history of spires and masts, was quickly agreed upon. Piano also suggested what to put inside: a mix of office space on the lower floors, a hotel in the middle, and apartments above. It was Piano who recommended it be open to the public, via a viewing gallery at the top and three floors of restaurants a third of the way up. Piano even christened the building, likening it to "a glass shard" at a press conference. "It is not difficult to make a new shape," he says. "Even children can do that. What is difficult is to make new shape that makes sense."

Crystalline structures entranced such early modernists as Germany's Bruno Taut, whose 1914 Glass Pavilion was adorned with such utopian slogans as "Glass brings a new era" and "Light wants crystal". Yet, where most glass towers are basic geometric forms, the Shard, which officially opens next month, achieves something more sculptural. Its giant sides fold and overlap, creating fissures and niches; what's more, being angled, they reflect the sky, fragmenting the building's scale and turning it, says Piano, into "a mirror of London – on a sunny day, it is fantastic". On a grey day like today, however, the poetry is not quite so apparent, and its hulking mass is impossible to disguise.The faceted form breaks up the scale inside, too. Floors of offices, with their central elevators and glass-lined perimeters, can all look very much alike, but the Shard's irregular floor plans create something less regimented. And, instead of corner offices for managers to hog, there are "winter gardens" with openable windows. The fissured sides also conceal ventilation grilles and service openings, from which cranes can emerge like robotic arms to clean and maintain the building. As for the environmental drawbacks of an all-glass tower, which can heat up like a greenhouse, they are less relevant in Britain's temperate climate.

The chief complaint with the Shard, though, is not the building's design or technical performance, but its location. It's fine, say critics, for Dubai or Hong Kong – but why did it have to go here? It's difficult to deny that the Shard is out of scale with the low-rise streets around it, or that it ruins the view of St Paul's Cathedral from Parliament Hill. But then London has never been a precious, historic jewel of a city like Venice or Paris: it has grown haphazardly, been scarred by war and fire, and has continually overwritten its own history. That's not to say there is no place for heritage, but the balance is a dynamic one. London is still in flux. St Paul's once looked out of scale, but it has now been dwarfed by the high-rises of the City; the Shard's context will also change. And, just across the Thames, stands the concrete core of Rafael Viñoly's upcoming 37-storey "Walkie Talkie", potentially an uglier and more obtrusive design than Piano's.

"This building is not made with the intention to be aggressive or powerful," says Piano. "It is not about priapismo. This building is telling a completely different story. It is celebrating a shift – in the idea that growth in a city should not happen by building more and more on the periphery. This city is one of the first that decided to have a green belt, a clear physical limit; if you have to grow, you grow inside. I'm not an advocate of tall buildings, but I am an advocate of intensifying the city from the inside."

And yes, says Piano, it had to go here. The Shard may be, at almost 310m, the tallest building in the EU, yet it has just 48 parking spaces – the point being that it sits right by London Bridge station, a major transport hub. "It's another big shift – to tell people, 'Look, stop going around in cars.' In this city, it's less terrible, but try to do this in Milan. Try to do this in Paris, Los Angeles. Would you expect hostility? Of course. You have to accept as an architect to be exposed to criticism. Architecture should not rely on full harmony. If everyone is agreeing, then you make a big mistake."


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Piano has weathered greater hostility than this. His career began, after all, with one of the most provocative buildings in modern architecture: 1977's Pompidou Centre in Paris, which he and Richard Rogers designed in their 30s. In terms of language, if not height, the Pompidou is still far more radical than the Shard. A lightweight box covered in ducts and pipes, it defied the notion that cultural architecture should be solid, monumental, intimidating. Critical opposition was virtually unanimous and legal action was taken to try to stop it going ahead. "I'm still surprised we were allowed," he smiles. "We were bad boys. We were teenagers. Worse than teenagers – we were Beatles!" There's a touch of Yellow Submarine to the Pompidou, he admits, but that was the spirit of the age. This was the early 1970s, when Piano was at London's Architectural Association, hanging out with sci-fi technophiles such as the Archigram team. He fell in easily with the Italian-speaking Rogers. "Richard was more intellectual, more brilliant," says Piano. "I was more like a bricoleur [handyman]."

Despite the shock of the Pompidou, Piano's work has since followed a serene, craftsmanlike path, true to his family's roots in construction. His practice is called Renzo Piano Building Workshop and his Genoa HQ has been likened to a spiritual retreat. He has, however, no obvious signature style: the best of his work seeks refined harmony rather than virtuosic display. His many art galleries defer to the work rather than make "iconic" statements. His New York Times skyscraper, in contrast to the Shard, goes almost too far in its reticence, appearing grey and anonymous from a distance.

But Piano has never stopped being radical. In the 1990s, he designed an airport terminal, a spectacular 2km long, on a giant artificial island in Japan's Osaka Bay. He concealed San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences beneath an undulating roof of grass and plants. He is working on a skyscraper in South Korea that is twice the height of the Shard (and will doubtless attract half the controversy). And the most contentious of all his works has probably been the least radical: adding a new monastery and gatehouse to Le Corbusier's celebrated chapel in Ronchamp, France. Several high-profile architects signed a petition denouncing such interference with an architectural treasure.

"In every interesting job," says Piano, "you are there not to change the world, but to witness the change in the world." So the Shard is merely a manifestation of the hard choices growing cities have to make. "You do not get hostility because you are wrong, but because people have a fear of change. Around any job, you can always build a good story and a bad story. And the hostility goes away – because if you are right, then the good story comes out."


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April 21 2012

The view from Europe's tallest building

A trip up the Shard yields a 60-mile-wide panorama spanning London. But is its haphazard journey from pipe dream to reality a good thing for the capital?

'Save us from a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," I wrote in the London Evening Standard, in 2000, when property developer Irvine Sellar unveiled plans for a 1,400ft-high pointy cylinder above London Bridge station. I went on to say that if he wanted to build something this big, which would be visible all over London, the least Sellar could do was hire a decent architect.

The sharp stick is now there and a little while ago I found myself high up it, wondering at a 60-mile-wide sweep in which I could see Southend-on-Sea in one direction and Ascot in the other, or, rather, smudges I was told were these pleasure grounds of poor and rich. You can see more clearly Heathrow's Terminal Five and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford and Hertfordshire and the North Downs.

You can see, in other words, the whole of London, until now an unencompassable splodge that could last have been captured in a single view perhaps 200 years ago, to its perimeter and beyond. Close to, familiar and not-small objects, such as the Gherkin and HMS Belfast, look like large toys. It is both implausible and real, something well-known seen from an unprecedented place. It's hard to know what to do except gawp.

The stick is now named the Shard and has been redesigned by celebrated Genovese architect Renzo Piano, co-architect with Richard Rogers of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, who replaced the less glamorous firm of Broadway Malyan. The tower has also shrunk, to just over 1,000ft, as the Civil Aviation Authority was worried about planes crashing into it.

It is still big enough to be an object of urban fascination. A fox, a crane driver, base jumpers and other adventurers have all made headlines by getting to the top (or, in some cases, allegedly so). Unauthorised photos of the view from the top have gone viral, or viral-ish. Hacks and citizens are pouring forth their views: it's elegant; it's in the wrong place; it's a piece of international tower envy; it's a citadel of the mega-rich lording it over us morlocks below; it's a London icon. In truth, it is all these things. It is said to be penile, which can only mean that there are some odd-shaped penises out there.

It is also a monument to the hustling abilities of one man, Irvine Sellar. Sellar made his first fortune with what might then have been called groovy fashion boutiques in the 1960s, before moving into property, before going blazingly bust, before starting over again with industrial units in Portsmouth and Warrington. He is the sort of person who gets called a "barrow boy", who had limited experience of building above three storeys before he started on the Shard, and to whom the bigger, more established property companies would condescend.

Sellar bought the site of the future Shard, which is next to London Bridge station and was then occupied by a brownish 1970s building called Southwark Towers, in 1998. He had, he says, no idea it would soon be government policy to support dense development near major transport interchanges. But it was and he spotted a chance. "Railtrack didn't convey the site to me as well as they might have done," he says, "which gave me an opportunity to talk sensibly about building something tall." In other words, he had better lawyers than they had and he got his way.

He got London's newly installed mayor, Ken Livingstone, on his side and Fred Manson, a dynamic planner for the borough of Southwark. Sellar hired Piano, possibly because of criticisms in the press but more probably because he needed someone of Piano's reputation to get planning permission. They made an odd couple – Sellar is stocky and bustling, Piano is tall, well-tailored, and never visibly ruffled. It looked like a marriage of convenience: Piano would lend Sellar his cachet and Sellar would give Piano the chance to build the most conspicuous landmark of his career. Or at least, as few believed the Shard would really be built, Sellar would pay him handsomely to conjure up this spectacular fantasy. Sellar, it was widely assumed, would then sell the undeveloped site for a large profit.

In a few months, Piano ran up his designs. He came up with an elongated pyramidal shape, which he said was inspired by old pictures of spires and ships' masts in the Thames. He talked about its special, extra-white glass and how the canted surfaces would reflect the sky and produce "a nice light presence". Grasping for words at a press conference, he said it would look like a "… a shard … a shard of crystal".

The tower would be a "village", not a monolithic office block. There would be flats, a hotel and restaurants, as well as 570,000 square feet of office space. There would be public viewing galleries, so that Londoners could take possession of it and not just gawp at the exterior. It would be sustainable, to the extent that such buildings can be. Being next to a large railway station would mean that the thousands of people working in it would use trains rather than cars. A "radiator" at the top would use the effect of high winds to help cool the building.

English Heritage objected, in particular because of the Shard's effect on the view from Hampstead Heath, where it would loom over St Paul's. There was a public inquiry, which decided that the tower was a good enough piece of design to overcome such concerns. John Prescott, then the minister in charge of such things, declared that it was "of the highest architectural quality" and granted it planning permission.

Still, there was doubt whether it was possible to finance such a building, in an unfashionable location. Livingstone gave a leg-up to his favourite project by promising to move the offices of Transport for London there. Sellar signed up the Shangri-La hotel group. The credit crunch hit, which might have been terminal to a project so palpably of the profligate boom years, but then the cavalry appeared, in the form of the property arm of the ruling family of Qatar. As their oil wealth means they have no need for credit, the credit crunch did not bother them much.

Sellar now says that "there were moments when things weren't particularly good, but I have never thought that we wouldn't win this". He says he is "not smug or complacent. There is still plenty to do… a beautiful building apart from its architectural merit is not completely beautiful until it's fully let" and they are still looking for tenants for some of the office space. He also says that "it is not about being tall, by the way. It will never be the tallest, but it is the most beautiful". It's not quite believable that height is unimportant to Sellar, although he's right that it's fatuous to chase superlatives, given that the Shard does not quite equal the 82-year-old Chrysler building in New York. It is none the less the tallest building in Europe.

What is there now is more like the designs that Piano produced almost 12 years ago than seemed likely. The ecological radiator has been omitted, on the grounds that it would be expensive and that other equipment would do the same job as well, but otherwise his office has seen off most attempts to cut costs. The glass he wanted is there, as are the public viewing galleries.

He will have his "village", although it will be no Little-Mouldering-on-the-Marsh, and it is hard to see how the social mixing that is presumably part of the attraction of the village idea will take place. The different parts of the building have different lifts and entrances, which reduces the chances of maypole dancing or whatever its modern equivalent might be.

The Shard will have a luxury hotel, and 10 flats near the top, each one of which entirely occupies either one or two floors. These are currently shells, but it does not take much to see that their overflowing abundance of space and views will put them beyond the reach of all but the most hyper of the hyper-rich. Each is rumoured to be worth between £30m and £50m, which means that the 10 of them pretty much pay for the £450m construction cost of the whole building.

So there it is, impressive and with a certain stylishness, even if not quite achieving the "nice, light presence" that Piano promised. It will certainly become – is already – a London landmark and will take its place on T-shirts and tourist shows along with Tower Bridge and the Gherkin. It is made more interesting, if not really a village, by its multiplicity of uses. With its fantasy flats and Hollywood panoramas, it will feed the collective mythology of the city. Rich people may not be fashionable at the moment, but we still like to hear stories about them.

It is also a work of the punk urbanism in which modern London specialises. Other cities would look at the question of increasing development around railway stations and aim for some sort of coherent plan for achieving it. In London, they declared an intention and then gave first prize to the man – Sellar – quickest off the mark. They then dressed the consequences in "outstanding architecture". The Shard was the first and unfortunately the best of such developments. After it came other towers, such as the Strata in Elephant and Castle and the Vauxhall Tower, which repeated the same formula of height next to a station, intrusion on important views, an eco-doodad on top and architecture declared outstanding by John Prescott. The spawn of the Shard come nowhere near to the quality of the original.

So is it worth it? You might say that it depends whether you think London is more like a novel or a painting, about cracking stories and crazy contrasts or about harmonious compositions. Or rather, given that London is in fact a city, and therefore about the play of individual and collective, whether it falls within the hazy rules of the game. It is a thing that pops up everywhere, in views down streets, from parks, from the M25. It is the most conspicuous object in London. It seems to proclaim something significant, yet all it really says is that we have a wonky planning system and that someone called Irvine Sellar was smart enough to exploit it.

I appreciate that anarchy is part of London's DNA, but it is not all of it. I also appreciate Sellar's energy, Piano's skills and the thrills that the Shard offers. I like the view. But not that those skills and energy have gone into making something that, at bottom, is profoundly random.


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September 25 2011

Renzo Piano: let there be light

Hidden in a French hillside below Le Corbusier's famous chapel, Renzo Piano's new convent is spare, calm and quietly masterful. Lucky nuns, says Jonathan Glancey

'At first I said no," says Renzo Piano. "We were very busy. For me, the idea of building a convent next to Le Corbusier at Ronchamp was, in any case, a bit crazy." Certainly, it must have felt like a big risk. The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp is one of the 20th century's most treasured buildings, and Le Corbusier a demigod in the architectural firmament; being asked to build alongside this French national monument, an international destination for religious and cultural pilgrims, is like receiving an invitation to knock up a postmodern extension to the Parthenon or St Peter's in Rome.

But then Piano met Sister Brigitte de Singly at his studio in Paris, caved in and said yes. The architect was busy with towering commercial projects such as Shard London Bridge, at 310metres [1,017ft] Europe's tallest building, as well as the expansion of Boston's opulent Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, both due to open next year. Meanwhile, Sister Brigitte and her nuns were hoping to leave their home of 800 years in Besançon, in order to be closer to Le Corbusier's chapel.

With an all-in budget of £9m, at least 60 times less than that of the Shard, the convent for the Clarisses, or Poor Clare Sisters, was to take up a disproportionate amount of his time over the next five years. Funding was a slow and complex process; the money was realised through local government funding, charitable and religious donations, and the sale of the nuns' former convent.

When I meet the architect and the abbess, lunching frugally with pilgrims and builders at trestle tables set on a wooded hill, below Le Corbusier's chapel, I can see why Piano said yes. "If Sister Brigitte was to be my client, then what else could I say?" Piano says. "She has a profound love of architecture, of landscape, of sacred space – and even of people without religion, like me. She wanted a place of silence and prayer. I said: 'I can't help you with prayer, but perhaps I can help with silence and a little joy.'"

Just as Le Corbusier's chapel was created for a Catholic church he did not believe in, and shaped by a very particular interpretation of the medieval monasteries he never lived in, so Piano has produced a building of quiet refinement and spirituality at Ronchamp. "Sister Brigitte reminded me of the need for quiet, for nature, for slowness, for simplicity," he says. "She reminded me of the long tradition architects have had of working with the church."

The nunnery is, for the most part, invisible – or will be when new trees have been planted, and plants have spread over the concrete roofs Piano and his Building Workshop have half-buried in the hillside. "Landscaping is half the project," Piano says. Even so, the project met great opposition when plans were unveiled three years ago. The Fondation Le Corbusier, a fierce guard of the architect's reputation, was quick on the attack. "They began to scream: you can't do this!" says Piano. At the time, the foundation's director Michel Richard argued: "We are trying to make sure the site is preserved for eternity. We are afraid that in 10 years, the sisters will go away and they will be replaced by a B&B."

"Of course, they were worried that we wanted to build too close to Le Corbusier," says Jean-François Mathey, who, with Sister Brigitte, has been the driving force behind the project. Mathey is president of the Association de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut, the organisation that commissioned the chapel from Le Corbusier 60 years ago. "In fact, they didn't want anything new built here." When Piano announced his plan to hide the building away in the hillside, Jean Louis Cohen, the distinguished French architectural historian and board member of the Fondation, told the press: "Maybe you wouldn't see it, but you would feel it."

All of this is understandable, but Mathey had been thinking about a new religious foundation for Ronchamp for some time. "The chapel is a great attraction to believers, to cultural tourists, to architects, to anyone with a soul," he explains, "and we have 100,000 visitors a year. But we didn't want [it] to become only a tourist attraction, or a funfair; we wanted to make sure it stays a place of prayer." When Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the papal envoy to France, comes to bless the convent on 2 October, Ronchamp will be reconsecrated in the hearts of the Catholic faithful.

And despite the Fondation's fears, Piano has made a great improvement to the hilltop site. A grim concrete visitors' centre that had lurked between car park and chapel has been demolished. A new visitors' centre, dug into the hill, forms the base of the convent. There is a bookshop and a gallery behind a welcoming zinc-and-glass facade; in winter, a roaring log fire set behind a glass screen will greet those who have battled with snow and fog to get here.

Above is the convent proper. This wraps itself around contours of the hill, burrowing into the landscape like the strands of a rosary pressed gently into the earth. The strings of the rosary are the convent's corridors; its beads are the rooms leading off them. The crucifix at its centre is the chapel, the Oratory.

On one side of a simple central entrance, a long corridor lined with sweet-smelling, floor-to-ceiling cedar cupboards leads to the nuns' cells and living quarters. There is room for just 12 Poor Clares. Aside from their life of prayer and work, they will look after visitors seeking more than architecture and landscape can offer.

The cells are spare, calm and chastely beautiful. They are no more than 2.7 metres square, but have custom-designed timber furniture, warm orange walls, superb natural lighting and stirring views south and west to the valley below. The rooms are fronted by private winter gardens, glazed suntraps serving as architectural gaps, or pauses, between inner and outer worlds. (They will also help keep the cells warm in winter, cool in summer.)

Every light switch, every chair

The refectory is gathered around three sides of a courtyard, with glazed walls but open to the sky. It must be wonderful to eat here as the rain or snow falls. At the heart of the convent, the chapel's concrete vault curves in two different planes, like the upturned hull of a boat (an image of the Church as a ship of souls), while a concealed slit in the chancel wall facing the hillside brings a halo of daylight into its deepest recesses. "Architecture," as Le Corbusier said, "is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light." Piano's work here is quietly masterful, built around a minimal palette of concrete, timber and zinc; the fact that he and his team have designed and crafted every last detail, from chairs to light switches, within such a modest budget is a minor modern miracle. Buried into the hillside, the convent should prove cheap to heat and light. Deep bore holes bring warmth from the ground, while daylight is reflected through the building at every turn. It felt comfortable here on the intensely humid day I came to visit.

"I have tried to make it like a little hill town," Piano says. It's an appropriate analogy. Between 1922 and 1935, Le Corbusier planned new city centres (which were never realised), inspired as much by medieval monasteries as by modern life. "I have found the solution to workers' housing," he wrote to his parents in 1907. "I saw, in the harmonious countryside of Tuscany, a modern city crowning the top of a hill. The ring of monks' cells formed the noblest silhouette on the landscape. Each cell overlooks the plain and opens at a lower level into a small, enclosed garden. I thought I had never seen such happy living arrangements."

The pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp and the monastery of Saint Marie de la Tourette at Eveux-sur-Arbresle, north-west of Lyon, were Le Corbusier's last great buildings, both built on shoestrings. Piano has many more buildings in him, and yet it is fascinating to see this thoughtful architect nurturing one of his most considered buildings on a low budget, for nuns living and praying at the foot of Le Corbusier's chapel. He was absolutely right to have said yes.


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September 29 2010

Resnick Exhibition Pavilion (Los Angeles County Museum of Art LACMA) by Renzo Piano

Last week, the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art LACMA was pre-opened to selected guests with a gala benefit dinner to honor long-time museum patrons Lynda and Stewart Resnick.

The Resnick Pavilion was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. Renzo Piano’s Resnick Pavilion is a key feature of LACMA’s ongoing Transformation project and offers a major expansion of the museum’s exhibition space. It’s a single-story, 45,000 square foot structure. According to the museum, the Resnick Pavilion is the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.

Robert Irwin’s Palm Garden installation surrounds the Resnick Pavilion. The palms, some quite rare, come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes. They are set into orderly grids, articulated by Cor-ten steel walls and containers.

The Resnick Pavilion will open to the public on October 2, 2010, with three exhibitions: Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection; Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico; and Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915.

Since its inception in 1965, LACMA has been devoted to collecting works of art that span both history and geography – and represent Los Angeles’s uniquely diverse population. Today, the museum features particularly strong collections of Asian, Latin American, European, and American art, as well as a contemporary museum on its campus.

Resnick Exhibition Pavilion (Los Angeles County Museum of Art LACMA) by Renzo Piano. Press Preview, September 23, 2010.

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