Architecture Speaks With Space

architect Renzo Piano
interviewed by Andrija Rusan for Oris


ORIS: In 1977, you and Richard Rogers completed Beaubourg in Paris. In 1979, you held a lecture to a group of students gathered from all over the world in the ILAUD summer school organised by Giancarlo de Carlo in Urbino, Italy. All expected to see tons of images and hear the story from Paris firsthand. Yet you did not speak about Beaubourg at all. By the end of the lecture it was obvious that you wanted to move away from the project. Although it made the avant-garde ideas of the sixties and seventies come true and was practically a breakthrough in the modernisation of museums, you made no reference to it. What is your opinion of this undoubtedly epochal project from where you stand now? You’ve recently worked on the Beaubourg renovation, which gave you an opportunity to rethink the building. From the distance of so many years, do you think it is good?


Piano: This question is very intricate. To me, Beaubourg is about love; it is practically a love affair. Love affairs are intricate. I was very young and so was Richard. We were sort of bad boys. It wasn’t only about architecture, but about rebellion too. It was a rebellion against the notion that culture and architecture belonged to the rich and to the elite. It was a normal adolescent reaction. I think the moment was just about right to make a Beaubourg. It was the time when the notion of the museum was beginning to change; by the 1970s, it was a place for the elite, for the chosen few, not even for artists themselves. Museums were very quiet places for dead art, for an art beyond time. Our project was an act of rebellion. Regrettably, it so happened that when we completed it in 1977, Beaubourg became a symbol, a monument of sort. This disturbed me because it was the exact opposite of what we were trying to accomplish. We were after a culture factory that would be open for new things, and instead we made yet another monument. While it was not made in marble and stone, but in steel and tubes, it was still a monument. My relationship with Beaubourg shifted from passionate love – which was during construction – to rejection and then back to great love again. What I want to say is that when something like this happens to you when you’re young, it’s like a love affair – if you’re too young, the affair is bound to become a controversy.