"I don't trust Prince Charles' [architectural] judgment," Chicago Art Institute architect tells BBC

"I don't trust Prince Charles' [architectural] judgment," Chicago Art Institute architect tells BBC
Nichols Bridgeway by Renzo Piano, Chicago. Flickr/Vincent Desjardins

"Today I'm at the Shard, London's new, 300-meter tall building, which now dominates its skyline. Its designer, Renzo Piano, is my guest today," began Sarah Montague on the February 5, 2013, edition of the BBC's program HARDtalk. "He's one of the world's most accomplished and fated architects, and one used to dividing opinion."

The Shard, London, by Renzo Piano. Flickr/Dave Catchpole

The Shard, London, by Renzo Piano. Flickr/Dave Catchpole

Piano, 75, who designed the Art Institute of Chicago's modern wing and Nichols Bridge, has certainly come under fire for his Shard. The building has been called "too tall, too arrogant, a beacon for regeneration or a pointy pyramid of kitsch, depending on your point of view," according to the Guardian's Dave Hill.

In his interview with Montague, Piano echoed some of his prior critiques (and patronizing praise) of Prince Charles' views on modern architecture. But the Pompidou Center designer also shared some fascinating perspectives on architecture.

Asked whether the Shard came out as he imagined it, Piano noted that architecture is quite different from other media:

As an architect, if you make something wrong it's wrong forever. It seems stupid to say so, but if you're a musician, you make music. You understand that something is wrong, because what you do is the real thing. It's wrong, and then you do again. When you make a sculpture, what you're judging from is the real sculpture. But if you're making architecture, what you judge is not the real thing. It's the drawing of the real things, it's the model of the real thing, it's the rendering of the real thing. So you have to use your imagination to understand what is going to be in reality.

"And that would suggest," Montague responded, "if there's something wrong with it you can't fix it?" "Exactly," he said. "That's the tragedy."

Piano also expressed concern about artistic styles, which he called "kind of golden cage" that traps artists and forces them to repeat their rubber stamp. Instead, he strives to have a "sense of adventure" in each building, "like a kind of Robinson Crusoe ... landing on a new island each time and making a new adventure."

Asked if his work would achieve the recognition enjoyed by St. Paul's Cathedral -- one of the structures his Shard is accused of overshadowing -- Piano said, "I will be ridiculously arrogant to say so." Architects can be good or bad, and being good is more important than creating classical or modern work. Cities are "layers of different moments," he said. "If you represent your time with something good, what is wrong?"

Montague then shared that she had recognized Piano on the street, spaying on people to hear what they were saying about his buildings. Was this his way of judging the quality of his work, she wondered.

"This is my personal way," he said. "Not because I'm perverse person. I'm not perverse person." As a young architect in Paris, Piano learned from the Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini, of the importance of observing the public. "You should not look at the building. You should look at the face of people watching the building," Piano quotes Rossellini. "Since then, I do the same thing."

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