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Piano's forte

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Renzo Piano is described by some as a supreme masterbuilder rather than an architect who relies on ideas.

His lecture suggested this may be a reasonable view. He began by observing that architecture is 'a real adventure: it has action, you fight against the sharks [surely not his 'Shard' client Irvine Sellar? ], you deal with earthworks, hurricanes, unexploded bombs'.The latter happened in Berlin at Potsdamerplatz, where the Germans told him the bombs wouldn't explode 'because they were Russian'. The action theme continued: 'In architecture, rationality is not enough. . . you need intuition.' For Kansai Airport, the architects were working with a team of 10,000 men on site; in Berlin, 120 divers worked for a year on foundations because of high water levels. In New Caledonia, the architectural task had been about understanding local culture. Of course, he had to say something about towers, acknowledging that they could represent power, arrogance and money, though he described the latter as 'unphotogenic'. His own current tower projects in New York and London were briefly presented and prompted the thought that architecture is about thinking, then linking vision with technique. He ended with a hymn of praise to gravity and lightness, transparency and opacity, with their 'endless oscillation, like a pinball'.

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