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Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings - Royal Academy of Arts

Exhibition preview

FROM September 15, 2018 to January 20, 2019, the Royal Academy of Arts will be presenting an exhibition of the internationally-renowned architect and Honorary Royal Academician Renzo Piano.

This will be the first comprehensive survey of Piano’s career to be held in London since 1989, and will be presented in the new Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Burlington Gardens, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy.

Renzo Piano (b.1937) is one of the world’s leading architects and his buildings have enriched cities and spaces across the globe. From designing the Centre Pompidou in Paris as a young architect with Richard Rogers, to projects including The Shard in London and the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Piano’s work continues to pioneer ground-breaking architecture that touches the human spirit.

In 1981, the architect founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), located in Paris, Genoa and New York, which, with a team of 150 staff, has realised over 100 projects that include large cultural and institutional buildings, housing and offices, as well as urban plans for entire city districts.

Born into a family of Italian builders, Piano places great importance on the crafting of elegant structures that embody a sense of lightness. Designing buildings “piece by piece”, Piano’s practice makes deft use of form, material and engineering to achieve a precise yet poetic elegance. He has a command of the entire process, from the structural systems to individual building components, designed for optimum technical performance as well as aesthetic and haptic qualities.

Such is the importance of these aspects of the architecture, that full-scale mock-ups of sections of the buildings are created during the design process to test how they will look and feel, from the composition as a whole, to smaller technical details.

Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings will offer an overview of the architect’s practice through sixteen of his most significant projects, dating from his early career when he was experimenting with innovative structural systems, to the signature buildings of the present day.

Highlights include Centre Pompidou, Paris (1971), Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Nouméa (1998), The New York Times Building (2007), The Shard, London (2012), Jérôme Seydoux Pathé Foundation, Paris
(2014) and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015).

Rarely seen archival material, models, photographs and drawings will reveal the process behind the conception and realisation of Piano’s best known buildings. For example, on display will be one of the original models made during the design process for the Menil Collection in Houston (1986), showing how Piano and his team rigorously explored creative ways to bring natural light into the galleries, creating spaces that would be ideal for viewing art.

Other highlights will include the white ceramic rods from the 1:1 mock-up of The New York Times Building, produced to test their scale, surface and reflectivity, as well as the original competition drawings for the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea that captivated the jury.

At the heart of the exhibition, there will be a focus on the architect himself through 16 photographs by Gianni Berengo Gardin and a specially commissioned film by Thomas Riedelsheimer highlighting Piano’s personal sensibilities and attitude to architecture. The centrepiece of this space will be a sculptural installation designed by RPBW especially for the exhibition, bringing together 100 of Piano’s projects on an imaginary island.

The exhibition will provide an exceptional insight into the work, aspirations and achievements of a man who believes passionately in the possibilities of architecture. It will demonstrate that far from being a straightforward art-form, architecture is a complex profession that carries social, political and financial responsibilities.

Renzo Piano comments: “It is an honour to be working with the Royal Academy on the inaugural architecture exhibition in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. This exhibition aims to show how making buildings is a civic gesture and social responsibility. I believe passionately that architecture is about making a place for people to come together and share values.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated book with an introductory essay by Kate Goodwin and an interview with Renzo Piano by Sir John Tusa. In addition, there will be a series of short essays from major figures in the worlds of culture, politics and building that will each explore different aspects of Piano’s work and attitude to architecture.

Tickets: £14 full price (£12 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free. Tickets are available daily at the RA or visit Group bookings: Groups of 10+ are asked to book in advance. Telephone 020 7300 8027 or email

Times: 10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm). Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).