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Piano speaks out over plans for Harlem

Renzo Piano has defended his plans to demolish vast swathes of west Harlem, New York City, to make way for a new Columbia University campus.

The Italian architect is working alongside US giant SOM to deliver the scheme, which involves razing masonry-clad factories - dating from up to a century ago - whose owners are refusing to sell.

Hired in 2003 to produce plans for a new campus, Piano is no stranger to controversy in New York. Earlier this year the designer of London's yet-to-be-built Shard of Glass was believed to be in talks over a new skyscraper in Manhattan which would dwarf Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building.

Speaking to New York's Architectural Record, Piano said: 'Cities are bound to change - you have to accept it. You can't embalm a city.'

Columbia's plans to build a new campus as large as its original campus, 10 blocks south, has led to a stinging backlash from local residents, who believe their neighbourhood is slowly being eroded.

Piano, however, is defiant: 'We saved buildings that will give a good sense of the history of this neighbourhood. It's a mix of the past but, at the same time, the courage to go ahead and change.'

by Richard Vaughan

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