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    Renzo Piano lecture @CAS

    Nick Sowers
    Sep 27, '08 10:57 PM EST

    I've never seen an architect (let alone a world famous one) lecture inside his or her own building. What a treat this was, the day before the California Academy of Sciences was to open to the public-- a few hundred students from CCA and UC Berkeley were invited to see Renzo speak in the 'piazza' of his newly completed building.

    What follows are some excerpts of the lecture and perhaps the pictures will speak even more to what a magical experience this was. It was wonderful to see the architect so humbled within his own building (which is really the product of so many people and he reiterated that several times).

    We got to wander around a very limited area before the lecture began:


    I was sitting front row, about twelve feet away from Renzo. That didn't make it any easier to hear through his accent and all the echoing off the glass walls. In spite of what he said, I'm not convinced it would be a great place to hear a piano (a real one). What a charming guy though.


    One of the most amazing moments was when he opened the roof of the piazza, all the gears screeching and revealing a beautiful gradient of light as they retracted. My favorite thing was watching Renzo's face--he was like a kid inside of a Christmas present.


    some of the best quotes:

    "I call this a Piano lesson."
    "The places talk... the architecture should be good enough to listen... the voices are subtle"

    "The sketch---this is mythology."
    "A piazza is by definition empty. You don't have to design everything."
    "At 10 o clock you are a builder, pragmatic. 11 o'clock, a poet... at 12 o'clock you are a humanist, at 1 o'clock an anthropologist."
    "A good client is not necessarily obedient."
    "If they are not irritating discussions [with the client] they are not discussions."
    "You will never do something like this alone...We have a good builder (Did we pay the builder?)" *laughter*
    "I have five or six wives in my office--we don't even talk" *gestures with both hands up in the air*
    "You need obstination to keep the idea there. I call this sublime obstination."
    "If you make a mistake it's there forever."

    Question: Do you ever compromise aesthetics with a 'green' choice?
    Renzo: "Don't do that."
    "You can make things better by spending less money (but don't tell the client right away)"

    Question: Can you talk about the beginning of your career.
    Renzo: "I don't remember... It was last century." "Richard was the big one. We were bad boys looking like the Beatles... teaching at the AA in London, a mad place for mad people. Everyone starts in a different way, so good luck."

    Question: What kind of vision do you have for architecture?
    R: "Utopia is not a bad word. If you don't believe you can change the world you should change your job. Build good strong safe structures--it gives you dignity." "I hope this building will feed a generation..immense quarry of beauty and pleasure."

    Question: Do you ever visit your old buildings?
    R: "Up until [the building] is complete, it is yours... As an architect you never leave the building"
    "I like to hide myself behind a corner and I watch faces."

    We left enchanted (I have to say I was skeptical before, having seen some presentations last fall by the local architects). As a last gasp I tried running up a set of stairs when I thought no one was looking, halfway up only to hear a "Sir SIR! You can't go up there"....

    Outside, the fog having rolled in, we wandered around the park and took a last look back at what seemed like a UFO...landing or taking off?



    • greenasterisk

      wow, this must have been some experience...

      Sep 28, 08 4:41 am  · 

      I feel like this should be how all new major buildings are introduced, and so rarely are. But I'm hopefully going to a similar lecture at Coop Himmelblau's new high school in downtown LA next month. Maybe this and that lecture are the start of a new trend! Anyway, great images to document what I'm sure was a great experience. Thanks!

      Sep 28, 08 7:07 pm  · 

      should the louvers really screech like that?! wow.

      your comment about the acoustics: actually the soundspace for A piano and for hearing piano should be different anyway. A piano might sound great in such a reverberent space.

      sounds like a great experience. thanks for sharing it, nick. and, like scott said, this would be a wonderful sort of ritual event for architects, contractors, clients, etc to open their projects. much better than a ground-breaking or photo-op ribbon cutting, to be able to describe what the goal was and how it was achieved as a sort of punctuation between appreciation/congratulation and moving-on...

      Sep 29, 08 7:12 am  · 

      yeah the retractable screens did screech, really loudly. It's funny but I bet they put in more machinery than necessary, for the visual effect. Just like Pompidou...

      about the architect in his own building, if you have ever seen Peter Eisenman gushing over one of his things on Charlie Rose--you know how it could be awful to hear it. But Renzo was amazing... not a single slide, and he was so comfortable in spite of being photographed, videographed, and gawked at from 360 degrees.

      Sep 29, 08 3:05 pm  · 

      Piano is a gentleman. He charms everyone with his character and personality. Its a pleasure listening to him. Check out his lecture at the architecture league from 2006 and his recent talk at the Tate Modern in london from april 2008.

      Sep 29, 08 4:25 pm  · 

      i heart piano. i heard him speak once, and you could feel his absolute love for architecture and how comfortable he is in his own skin and happy to do what he does. it's amazing but i've sensed this from really very few architects. most of them are just trying to pretend themselves into self-importance. he's a very inspiring guy. and, i would tell my students, the only architect that really smiles for his pictures.

      Oct 1, 08 9:33 am  · 

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