Renzo Piano Building Workshop: complete works
As Peter Buchanan has shown in the first three volumes of Renzo Piano's complete works, he follows no fashions of form or theory, nor is he limited to a personal idiom. Instead he concerns himself with the specifics and potential of a particular situation and moment, meeting the challenges of the programme, pushing the limits of technology, but always responding sensitively to the topography or urban fabric of the building's site.
This fourth volume on Renzo Piano provides an illuminating study of the architect's working method, in particular his regard for context, followed by a presentation of his projects from 1989 to 2000. These range from urban works such as the Postsdamer Platz masterplan in Berlin, a science museum in Amsterdam and high-rise towers in Rotterdam and Sydney, to the acclaimed Beyeler Foundation and the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in New Caledonia, which exemplifies the architect's sensitivity to site and local tradition, combining traditional materials and techniques with those from the cutting edge of technology.
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For the twelve of us who actually prefer to read a monograph instead of merely flipping through, there’s plenty of text in this one. I want to say that the allotment of photographs and drawings is sufficient enough for such a portfolio, but Buchanan provides so much description that the visual documents seem to fall short in comparison. Generally this is a solid, if not the, contribution to an understanding of Piano’s first few decades. Buchanan’s lengthy essays try to eschew the typical monograph hagiography by inserting occassional token criticisms (the Lowara Offices project are a bit “glib”; IRCAM’s corner treatment is “disturbing,” causing the overall result to be “flimsy and insubstantial.”), but the primary theme is an accepting objectivity. The projects are mostly interesting and evidence a diversity that one may forget the Workshop is capable of after visiting the umpteenth consecutive glass-with-louvers/screens/rods/thingies box. Early on Buchanan attempts to dissuade the reader of the oft-mentioned perception that Piano and Co.’s work relies on the assemblage of discrete – and pricey - components. I would agree that certain projects in this volume and later go way beyond such aggregation strategies. But seriously, much of this work is exactly that. That’s certainly fine in my book because with the right budget – say a nice Pianinan $3,000 per square foot - the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of the parts! Warning: Kids with only $120/sf shouldn’t try this at home…