Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings

Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries
Royal Academy of Arts
London, UK
Until 20 January 2019

This autumn, the Royal Academy of Arts presents an exhibition of the internationally-renowned architect and Honorary Royal Academician Renzo Piano. This is the first comprehensive survey of Piano’s career to be held in London since 1989, and is presented in the new Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Burlington Gardens, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy.

Renzo Piano (b.1937) is one of the world’s leading architects and his buildings have enriched cities and spaces across the globe. From designing the Centre Pompidou in Paris as a young architect with Richard Rogers, to projects including The Shard in London and the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Piano’s work continues to pioneer ground-breaking architecture that touches the human spirit. In 1981 the architect founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), located in Paris, Genoa and New York, which, with a team of 150 staff, has realised over 100 projects that include large cultural and institutional buildings, housing and offices, as well as urban plans for entire city districts.

Born into a family of Italian builders, Piano places great importance on the crafting of elegant structures that embody a sense of lightness. Designing buildings “piece by piece”, Piano’s practice makes deft use of form, material and engineering to achieve a precise yet poetic elegance. He has a command of the entire process, from the structural systems to individual building components, designed for optimum technical performance as well as aesthetic and haptic qualities. Such is the importance of these aspects of the architecture, that full-scale mock-ups of sections of the buildings are created during the design process to test how they will look and feel, from the composition as a whole to smaller technical details.


“It is an honour to be working with the Royal Academy on the inaugural architecture exhibition in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. This exhibition aims to show how making buildings is a civic gesture and social responsibility. I believe passionately that architecture is about making a place for people to come together and share values.” – Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings offer an overview of the architect’s practice through sixteen of his most significant projects, dating from his early career when he was experimenting with innovative structural systems, to the signature buildings of the present day. Highlights include Centre Pompidou, Paris (1971), Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa (1998), The New York Times Building (2007), The Shard, London (2012), Jérôme Seydoux Pathé Foundation, Paris (2014) and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015).

Rarely seen archival material, models, photographs and drawings reveal the process behind the conception and realisation of Piano’s best-known buildings. For example, on display is one of the original models made during the design process for the Menil Collection in Houston (1986), showing how Piano and his team rigorously explored creative ways to bring natural light into the galleries, creating spaces that would be ideal for viewing art. Other highlights include the white ceramic rods from the 1:1 mock-up of The New York Times Building, produced to test their scale, surface and reflectivity, as well as the original competition drawings for the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea that captivated the jury.

The heart of the exhibition is focused on the architect himself through 32 photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin and a specially commissioned film by Thomas Riedelsheimer highlighting Piano’s personal sensibilities and attitude to architecture. The centrepiece of this space is a sculptural installation designed by RPBW especially for the exhibition, bringing together 100 of Piano’s projects on an imaginary island.

The exhibition provides an exceptional insight into the work, aspirations and achievements of a man who believes passionately in the possibilities of architecture. It demonstrates that far from being a straightforward art-form, architecture is a complex profession that carries social, political and financial responsibilities.

Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
The Shard, London Bridge Tower and London Bridge Place, London, 2012
© William Matthews