The Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, in collaboration with Fondazione Renzo Piano, is currently exhibiting a retrospective of work produced by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the architecture firm conceived and headed by Pritzker Prize laureate Renzo Piano. Piano, who was born into a family of contractors in Genoa, has emphasized the importance of hands-on experimentation as well as technological innovation throughout his career. Particularly of note are Piano’s models and sketches regarding the design and construction of the Whitney Museum’s future home, tucked between the High Line and Hudson River in the Meatpacking District.
The exhibition, described by the gallery as “equal parts library reading room, school classroom, and natural history gallery,” includes twenty-four tabletop displays, each detailing the evolution of one of the Workshop’s projects from preliminary experimentation to construction, with the inclusion of various sketches, studies and scale models. The tabletops reveal over thirty years of work, beginning with Piano’s collaboration with Richard Rogers on the iconic Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, on through to his current work.
A significant portion of Piano’s life was spent around builders. Piano’s father, who he worked for before launching his career in architecture, was a contractor, as were his four uncles and one of his brothers. Piano’s background in the physical act of building is echoed in his design process, and consequently, in the exhibition space. Artifacts of his fabrication-heavy approach, which include various models, full-scale components and handcrafted pieces, populate the tabletops and hang from the ceilings. In one display, a set of full-scale studies for aluminum joints from Piano’s innovative Traveling Pavilion for IBM lies on a table underneath a full-scale segment of one of the pavilion’s polycarbonate-paneled arches.
Piano has also earned a reputation for technological and material innovation, a theme that is also reflected in the exhibition. The California Academy of the Sciences designed by Piano, for instance, is the largest public LEED Platinum-Rated building in the world, and features a wide array of innovative, sustainability-related technology. The building features a 2.5-acre living roof, which improves heating and cooling efficiency by collecting and holding rainwater, naturally insulating the interior space and eliminating the need for air conditioning in many parts of the building. The structure is considered one of the most successful sustainability projects to date, using about 30% less energy than the federal requirement.
Piano was thrust into the architectural spotlight after winning the design competition for the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1971, a harbinger of the high-tech movement emphasizing structural expression and the articulation of mechanical systems, and has since become one of the most sought after museum architects in the world, having worked on over twenty-five museum projects over the last forty years including The Menil Collection in Houston, the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA and the new Whitney Museum at Gansevoort. The exhibition will be on view at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea through August 2.