Renzo Piano is not afraid of monsters and does not flinch when the 306m giant he plans for London is called one.
Even so, skyscrapers rightly have a bad reputation, insists the 63-year-old Italian architect. London Bridge Tower, Piano's £350 million glass design, is being let loose on Southwark planners any day now.
'Towers are like monsters, but monster in Latin means noticeable, visible; it is not negative, ' said Piano, last week.'Many blocks, however, deserve their bad reputation.They are aggressive, phallic symbols of power, anger and selfishness. They are mysterious and defend themselves against the sun with black or mirror glass.'
His shard, meanwhile, has sloping walls of 'brilliant white glass' reflecting the sky. It will be smooth and gleaming, quite different from the exposed structure and bright colours of another of Piano's iconic buildings.
The Pompidou Centre in Paris was a 1970s team effort with Lord Rogers, and the two remain on good terms, bouncing ideas off each other on sustainability and socalled 'trophy' architecture.
'Richard is like a brother. We talk about filling in the black holes of cities, of the poetry of construction and semantics. We talk of the need to bind planning permissions to architects and projects so when you win approval for volume, you don't drop the designers. And we talk about density and beauty.'
Piano, however, spreads himself thin on the ground.
His firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop has only two offices, in Paris and Genoa. This ensures his 'design family is close-knit' for immediacy, close control and a hands-on approach.
He denies his practice has shifted from cultural showpieces to commercial ones in recent years. This is despite high-profile monsters such as the Lend Lease tower in Sydney and plans for a New York block in Times Square.'We only take one or two big jobs a year. We took on London because it was a great challenge, urbanistically, philosophically and design-wise. However, we are also working on a Chicago art museum, one for Paul Klee's work in Switzerland and a church in south Italy.'
Unflinching with monsters, Piano is nevertheless mildly shocked at the results of the AJ's survey on influential guiding lights in architecture (see AJ 100, pages 47-77).Piano is number 11 out of the world's top 100 personalities. 'My God! Art is about stealing - in a good sense - and I've been stealing for a long time. I've grown up being influenced by so many people.' Such as?
'My father who was a builder, Buckminster Fuller, Franco Albini and Louis Kahn, who kept falling asleep in the office, ' said Piano, reaching for a Toscano cigar as he heads of to Waterloo's Eurostar terminal.