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Piano retunes into London with Bloomsbury 'groundscraper'

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London will soon find itself with a second Renzo Piano building if these plans for a 'groundscraper' in Bloomsbury convince Camden's planning committee.

Developer Stanhope believes that a combination of Piano's name and the regeneration of the project's site - an island of social housing behind Seifert's Centre Point tower - will be enough to secure permission.

The mixed-use project will vary in height in response to the differing architectural importance of the surrounding buildings, while the facades will be placed at varying angles to 'play visual tricks with reflections'.

The scheme is set to be submitted for outline planning permission within weeks and - with funding already secured - the developer hopes to be on site by the end of 2005.

Renzo Piano has never completed a building in the UK.But with permission finally secured for the London Bridge Tower (the Shard), and his St Giles groundscraper in London's Holborn about to go in for planning, Piano is set to make his mark on the City.Ed Dorrell talked to him Are you pleased to have finally started designing buildings in London?

Yes, very pleased.London is a city that I adore. It's really intense and exciting - especially the area of our St Giles project. I also discovered that Southwark is fantastic when I was working on the London Bridge Tower.The area around Tooley Street is just great.

Why did you take on the St Giles project?

The scheme is very important for the area around it and for the street pattern.When I walked around the area I realised that someone really needed to improve the permeability of the site.At the moment the existing buildings form a barrier for pedestrians between Covent Garden and the British Museum.

Why is it an important project for you?

I was excited about creating a new public space, something the surrounding area desperately needs. It is also great to get the opportunity to work within the medieval street pattern that exists in the area.

Now that you have won the inquiry into London Bridge Tower, what do you make of the British planning system?

I think it is excellent and I found the inquiry very interesting.

We were challenged to produce a better scheme and this is what I thought we achieved.The amount of work you have to put in to win planning permission ensures that you understand and listen to the area you are working in.The planning system is slow but it is also a guarantee of quality.

There are many in the UK who don't share your attitude.

Yes, I know.But it think it is important to remember architecture can be a very dangerous discipline and - unlike art or music - if you make a mistake you can damage a city forever. It is a lot more risky if there is freedom in the planning system.

Are you confident the London Bridge Tower will actually be built?

Without a doubt.The developer is committed to the project and we are starting the next design stage.

Do you plan to take on more work in the UK?

Not at the moment.The amount of work I have on is enough. I don't have a big office and I am not interested in getting one.We are craftsmen who spend a lot of time and attention on every project and I would not want to change it.

Even though a lot of people would be keen for you to do more here?

I know, but I only have a small capacity to produce projects because we still draw everything.At the moment we are working on a new headquarters for the New York Times and we have produced over 10,000 drawings.That is a lot of work.

Will you be opening a London office?

Maybe one day but it will depend on a lot of other factors.

London and Paris, where I am based, are now so close because of the Channel Tunnel that a new office seems unnecessary.

However, we might get together a small local team for the St Giles scheme, but it is unlikely because I find it so hard to delegate.

You famously collaborated on the Pompidou Centre with Richard Rogers.Do you still have regular contact?

Richard is my best friend and I think he is a great guy.He is like a brother to me.We often go on holiday together. I go and visit him in his office and he visits me.He is doing very well and the standard of buildings he is producing is still very good.He has a moral and ethical attitude to his work and I think this makes him an essential figure in modern international architecture.

What do you make of Rogers'new skyscraper in the City (submitted for planning last week)?

I think I like it, although I haven't seen the designs for about six weeks and haven't seen the final project.But what I have seen, I really liked.When a design like this is unveiled, it is exciting for the whole of London.

Which is your favourite city?

I love Paris. I always think of it as my city.

But I also love Genoa. It is small but it has an amazing density and intensity that can't be compared to anywhere else. It has a magnificent townscape, you might even say shipscape, that is wonderful.

Of course there is also San Francisco and New York.They are both wonderful.

London is great too.

And your favourite building?

I have no idea. It's very difficult to answer that.I do not consider myself a critic of architecture.I prefer to actually do it.

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