In honor of Renzo Piano’s 75th (gasp!) birthday, we offer an update on his latest projects. The septuagenarian has several large-scale works in various stages of construction scattered across the world, and has celebrated the opening of others within this past year. While we have been continuously following the conceptualization, construction and completion of the Shard, Renzo’s talent is sweeping across major cities both in the States and Europe, including: a satellite museum in New York; a cultural hub for Athens; an urban cultural catalyst for Santander, Spain; an interior renovation for Los Angeles; a recently completed museum wing for Boston; plus, a redeveloped brownfield site turned science center for Trento, Italy. No matter the project location, scale, or program, Piano’s ability to craft an architecture with a sense of lightness, strong attention to detail and overall aesthetic elegance sets him in a very particular category of the profession. So, here’s to a happy 75th and 75 more years of great architecture, Renzo! More after the break.
We begin our progress update with the Satellite Whitney Museum - a 200,000 sqf building on Gansevoort Street between West Street and the main entrance of the High Line. The museum celebrated ground breaking in 2010 after managing to meet a tightened budget and appease community concerns. When completed in 2016, the addition will provide the Whitney with much needed space for its expanding collection, which will hold an amazing gift of nearly 500 artworks recently given by Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner in March of this year, among other collections. The satellite museum has the potential to serve as a strong anchor point for the High Line, feeding off the landscape project’s continuous pedestrian flow and adding a strong cultural presence to the area. The design takes advantage of the backdrop of the High Line, as outdoor exhibition spaces on a series of rooftops will showcase more of the Whitney’s collection to attract the gazes of both museum-goers and High Line strollers. According to Renzo, “The design for the new museum emerges equally from a close study of the Whitney’s needs and from a response to this remarkable site. We wanted to draw on its vitality and at the same time enhance its rich character…Here, all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.”
And, then there’s Renzo’s cultural center in Athens, financed by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (check out this great video to catch you up to speed on the project). This project epitomizes Piano’s ability to integrate building with site, as the 180,000+ sqm building – which will house both the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera - uses the slope of the terrain to transition to the sea by way of a tree-lined esplanade. The building design incorporates passive and active strategies and will achieve either LEED Platinum or Gold standing – the first such designation in Greece and the first for a project of this scale in Europe (read more about the project’s sustainable features here). And, although the building will be occupied by major programmatic elements, a huge part of the design is actually the attention to landscaped public space. Approximately 85% of the site is designated for park space, making it one of the largest green spaces in Athens, which currently has the lowest per capita green space in Europe. After being selected to design the building in 2008, Renzo presented the final design during a public event in Athens in June of last year. In December 2011, excavation work began, and actual construction is scheduled for 2012 with completion aimed for 2015. “The beginning of the construction phase comes at a very critical juncture in modern Greek history and brings a much-needed sense of optimism and hope, as well as a whole range of significant economic benefits to the country,” explained the SNFCC. We cannot wait to see the larger implications of this project at a cultural and economic level, and will keep you updated on its progress.
Similar to Athens, Renzo’s first major Spanish project expands upon the larger urban planning of Santander by establishing a new community center and strengthening urban spaces while connecting the city back to the bay. The project, entitled the Botín Center, will be the largest private foundation in Spain and seeks to integrate art and education by serving as a training center to promote youth talent (check out our previous coverage here). Since the project was first presented to the public in September 2011, Renzo has worked with the city’s citizens to hear their criticisms and have the design reflect as such. A major design consideration is the notion of access, as vehicular traffic currently isolates the site and disrupts the possibility of a continuous pedestrian connection to the bay. To amend this disconnect, the design has developed to include a tunnel for traffic to allow the Pereda Gardens to reach the sea uninterrupted- and to shift the building into line with the Mercado del Este. By enlarging the Gardens, the greenway will extend all the way to the shore, with no hindrance between the old quarter and the port. The buildings will sit at the end of this circulation spine on the edge of the pier, suspended over the water so as to allow people to pass underneath. Renzo explained, “The lobe form of the two volumes that comprise the art center resulted from a process of volumetric testing through a series of models. Resembling the shells of mollusks, both constructions are raised off the ground and are faceted at the far ends, freeing up the plane of the ground and opening on to views of the garden around and the sea beyond.” Construction recently began on the Center this summer, and the project is slated for completion by 2014.
Earlier this year, we shared the opening of Renzo’s newest wing for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The extension, which is connected to the historic museum by a greenhouse corridor, includes a performance hall, adjustable height special exhibition gallery, and work spaces in a “floating” volume that offers uninterrupted views of the original building and gardens. Former NYTimes architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff explained, “Mr. Piano has done more, striking an ideal balance between new and old without compromising the identity of either. The addition, whose copper cladding will give it a muscular feel, is set discreetly behind the existing building. A narrow garden, 50 feet wide, separates the two, creating a palpable tension, as between two magnets held slightly apart.”
We are also excited to see what the first collaborative effort between Renzo and Zoltan Pali will bring to the design of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, situated on the campus of Renzo’s expansion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The project includes the renovation of the May Company building, a 1939 department store originally designed by Albert C. Martin and S.A. Marx. Piano and Pali will design the 300,000+ sqf interior to function as a backdrop for exhibitions on some of the most well known movies, “We as architects make buildings that are portraits that represent our clients,” says Piano, who, like the building, was born in the 1930s. “The Academy Museum will take the visitor through the back door of cinema, behind the curtain, and into moviemaking magic.” Even at 75 years of age, Renzo Piano’s breadth of work brings a freshness and contemporary air to the profession – and, we can’t wait to see what’s next! In case you can’t get enough of Renzo’s newest works, be sure to check out his older gems in our AD Classics section.