and the Italian Cultural Institute
This 1992 exhibition of the work of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop focused on twelve works that showed the range of the Building Workshop’s architecture, in terms of program and location, and the design solutions and materials explored and adopted. The show was presented in an unconventional format in order to reflect the method and ethos of the Building Workshop and the very tactile qualities of its works. It was a hands-on show inviting active engagement with some of the material, and was as much about process of design and construction as about its eventual products, the completed buildings. A tabletop, evocative of both drafting table and workbench, was devoted to each work. At each table the local factors, design concepts, original construction documents, assembly processes, and some of the published critical reception were available for study. Imagery, models, and sometimes an actual component or characteristic piece gave some sense of the building’s physical presence. On some tables, computers allowed study of simplified versions of design investigations by the Building Workshop and Ove Arup & Partners.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Selected Projects was accompanied by an exhibition catalogue with extensive text by curator Peter Buchanan that discussed the twelve projects included in the show and explored the history and working method of the Building Workshop at a pivotal time in its growth. This text is reproduced on the following pages.
Actually, as in other Piano buildings, the entrance is given experiential emphasis by it being prolonged and flanked by planting. This may find extreme manifestation with the funicular here and with the garden approach to the Schlumberger facilities in Paris. But some equivalent is found at the Menil Collection in Houston where the entrance is folded into the building between shrubs, and at the rue de Meaux housing in Paris, where all entrances are off the central garden. The Building Workshop’s architecture lacks nothing in the way of psychological and cultural resonances, but rather pursues different ones through different means than do buildings by other architects. Vesima may lack windows, but the sense of being open to and at one with the ever-changing cycles and get new windows in Columbus Ohio.
by Paul S. Byard, President (1989-1994), Architectural League of New York
The Architectural League can rarely have fulfilled its mission more completely and happily than in proposing, pursuing and now presenting this show of the work of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
The work of the Building Workshop grounds its claim to our attention on an accessible, ancient and unarguable — if sometimes unchic — premise. The reason we have our art is like the reason we have hands, to take hold of pieces of our world and make them meet our needs. In the green and sunny Mediterranean world of the Building Workshop, our oldest ancestor, homo faber, is alive and at work.
What he is doing there, of course —and here the Building Workshop advances its claim by millennia — is something that has excited us at least since the Renaissance. Coming from the hands and computers of the Building Workshop is a succession of strong and beautiful architectural devices which make wonderful “works” out of the problems they address. Like the inventions of the great humanists, they confirm the power of that transcendent creative ingenuity by which we make needs into works of art.
Such a confirmation is surely timely and welcome. At least in our nation, after almost a generation of resignation and blame, we seem again to be taking an interest in actually doing something creative about our problems. For architects, it seems to me, the work of the Building Workshop is a reminder of the strength and reach of our capacity to do so.
Like so much that survives of the humanism in which finally it seems grounded, the architecture of the Building Workshop is a substantial cause for hope.
Table of Contents
All texts by Peter Buchanan, © The Architectural League of New York