Architecture, Book review
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Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete Works Volume 5


It’s 23 years since the first of Peter Buchanan’s monumental volumes on Renzo Piano appeared. The latest edition features projects completed between 2000 and 2007, plus several that are recently realised, including the London Bridge Tower (‘The Shard’). In total, the books record more than 30 years of achievement since Piano and his then partner Richard Rogers achieved instant superstar status with the completion of Paris’ Pompidou Centre in 1977.

It is hard to think of any project in the intervening years that has failed to meet the expectations of Piano’s multitude of admirers. He is the archetypal architect’s architect, a pioneer who leads where others follow–for example, in the virtuoso use of materials such as timber, stone, brick and glass. Among the 14 projects recorded here (in meticulous detail, in tune with the expansive tone of the Phaidon series) are the New York Times office tower, Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church. Also included are the final phases of the Lingotto Factory Conversion in Turin, a project that took 20 years to complete and one of the most ambitious schemes to date in the creative use of a redundant historic industrial complex.

Trained under Franco Albini in Milan, the intellectual heart of the Italian architectural scene. Piano stands apart from other Italian architects of his generation. Indeed, he is the only one to rank highly on the world scene–when Piano received the RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal in 1989, he was the first Italian recipient since Nervi, nearly 40 years previously. A global presence, Piano remains strongly rooted in Liguria, where his practice retains its spectacular studio overlooking the Mediterranean, close to his native city of Genoa.

Piano cites his family background as a potent influence on his professional development: the son of a Genoese contractor, he visited construction sites as a schoolboy. His approach to design is anything but academic or theoretical, and therein lies its strength. The description of the Piano practice as a ‘workshop’ is anything but fanciful. The model shop at the Paris office is placed directly on the street, allowing passers-by a glimpse of work in progress.

The range of the work presented in this book is extraordinary. The Santa Cecilia Hall at the Parco della Musica, for instance, is at least the equal of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, but has received far less media coverage. Furthermore, Buchanan’s long acquaintance with Piano’s architecture makes him a reliable and highly informed commentator–The Shard, ‘which seems an overdevelopment of its site’, doesn’t enthuse him. Books on Piano multiply by the year but these volumes, produced to the standard one has come to expect of Phaidon, will remain the standard reference on his work.

Order it here:

Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete Works Volume 5 by Peter Buchanan

ISBN-13: 9780714844725

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