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Renzo Piano on the Whitney Museum and the Value of Public Space

Throughout his career, Renzo Piano has designed dozens of museum buildings becoming the most prolific museum designer of our time. Yet, it has been some time since one of his designs has been as widely discussed and analyzed as his latest, the Whitney Museum in New York. In this interview, originally published on The Value of Architecture as "A House for Freedom: an Interview with Renzo Piano," David Plick speaks with Piano about the many inspirations of the Whitney Museum, from the previous Whitney Museum by Marcel Breuer to the neighboring High Line, the city on one side and the river on the other.

Renzo Piano is the great champion of public space. Whether the visitors and citizens of the city are aware of it or not, he improves their quality of life by sharing with them a living space designed specifically for the cultivation and dispersion of ideas and the enrichment of civic life. He’s the architect who cares about the individual’s experience of a building, who cares about how people interact with the space, and how the space then interacts with the world. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, much like the Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg as he would say, he showed this by including a large area in front—a “piazza” he calls it—for people to meet, congregate, chat, and even loiter. He’s somehow simultaneously innovative and selfless. And because of this, he can masterfully fuse form and function, creating beauty for himself because he loves it and thinks it will save people, yet it all means nothing to him if he can’t share in this emotion with others.

The Relationship between the Whitney Museum and the Southern End of the High Line. Image © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux © Nic Lehoux

Video: Renzo Piano Reveals the Story Behind the Whitney Museum on Charlie Rose

Said to be the most long-awaited museum of the 21st century, the new Whitney Museum of American Art by Renzo Piano officially opened its doors in New York this May after a 30 year endeavor to expand its capacity. An unusual scenario, Charlie Rose sat down with Piano and the museum's director Adam Weinberg to discuss the "remarkable story" behind the expansion and how its design incorporates, what Piano believes to be, seven elements that represent the essence of architecture: social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry and light.

We've provided a clip of the talk above. Watch the full 30-minute discussion, after the break. 

Renzo Piano Designs New Handbag Inspired by the Whitney Museum

Renzo Piano has designed a limited-edition handbag for the Italian fashion brand Max Mara to match his newly completed Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The leather, top-handle bag, inspired by the "pure design and sophisticated materials" of the Whitney, features distinct ribbing inspired by the museum's facade.

"Our aim was to apply one of the most characteristic elements of the museum project - the facade - to the bag: hence the idea of the modular strips enveloping the exterior," said Piano in an interview with Max Mara. "We tried to maintain a simple, pure design, working only on the details by applying a creative use of technology and placing the accent on respect for the materials."

Critical Round-Up: Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum

Depending on how you measure it, Renzo Piano's new building for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (designed in collaboration with New York practice Cooper Robertson) could be the most long-awaited museum of the 21st century. At just a fraction under seven years since the first designs of the building were released, the incubation period has been long enough on its own - but in fact the project has its roots in a scrapped 1981 design by Michael Graves, when the Whitney was instead planning an extension to their previous home in Marcel Breuer's 1966 masterpiece on Madison Avenue. With such a highly anticipated building, the Whitney could hardly have a better man for the job; Piano is one of the most prodigious museum builders of our time. Yet despite this, since construction began in 2011 the design has been beset by criticism for its ungainly external appearance.

Ahead of the Whitney's grand opening on May 1st, this past Sunday saw a slew of reviews from New York's many reputable art and architecture critics, who attempted to make sense of the institution's long-overdue move from their idiosyncratic but endearing former home. We've rounded up some of the best of them, after the break.

© Flickr CC user Payton Chung © Flickr CC user Steven Severinghaus © Flickr CC user Steven Severinghaus © Flickr CC user Bill Benzon

Piano's Progress

© Renzo Piano Building Workshop
© Renzo Piano Building Workshop

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.