Page D3.4. 11 January 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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    Piano Tone


    Details in the Making

    A conviction that engineering, building, and site are inseparable from design has long influenced Piano's work. He likes to point out he's the son of a builder; he also has a relationship with the British engineering firm, Arup, dating back to the 1970s. He considers the "making" an essential part of his job and enjoys finding an unorthodox solution to a challenge.

    "It's fundamental... frankly, there is really no separation. Engineering, architecture, making things... it makes sense," Piano says. "It's not because I believe that technology is more important than everything else, I just believe that there is a poetry of making things. And beauty also comes from the well-crafted bearing of a building. I don't want to be polemic, but I feel that the world is getting a bit away from that."

    He continues: "The art of telling stories is part of architecture. But it's stupid to believe that because of that beautiful function, architecture may get rid of practicality."

    Following the Light

    One of practical challenges was to harness the ideal north light for the upper stories. His solution was a flourish of roof "sails" on the pavilion and exhibition wing. One thousand aluminum "scoop" skylights compensate for the fact that Atlanta's streets, and therefore the site, are off from true north and south by about 30 degrees.

    The scoops, in effect, twist the roof to correct the angle. Rows of aluminum cones collect and filter north light, funneling it through the ceilings of the top floors. It was a creative answer that evolved into a striking, signature part of the design.

    "Light is always a struggle," Piano says, alluding to the different requirements of his Menil, Beyeler, and Nasher museums, and even of the first office building he designed. Still, his firm manages to come up with fresh solutions without repeating whatever worked last time.

    He considers the pluses and minuses of electric light. "Halogen light is beautiful, it's actually quite good," Piano says. "It's actually even the right color... except that then you are missing this sense of vibrancy." He is proud of the ethereal illumination of the top-floor galleries and of the even light the skylights provide. Its quality is much the same from floor to ceiling. "That is not easy to achieve with artificial light," he points out.

    Asked if whether in 50 years the High Museum of Art will be remembered as a Meier or a Piano, he laughs, then calls it "a terrible question." But he answers. "Richard Meier is one of the few persons really, that I respect and love, a good friend that I think does good architecture." He mentions Meier alongside Frank Gehry and Aldo Rossi. They, like Piano and Meier, are Pritzker Prize laureates.

    As to how the museum complex will be remembered, Piano says: "I don't care. But I think it will be seen as a blend, as a kind of melting experience between architects."

    Lisa Ashmore is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and former managing editor of the monthly architectural journal, DesignIntelligence.


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    ArchWeek Image

    The original High Museum of Art (1983) by Richard Meier.
    Photo: Courtesy High Museum of Art

    ArchWeek Image

    Restaurant and Anne Cox Chambers Wing surround the Sifly Piazza.
    Photo: Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Image

    Aluminum panels cover the facade of the new administrative building.
    Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

    ArchWeek Image

    Restaurant interior, featuring Allison Shot's "Arnolfini."
    Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

    ArchWeek Image

    Tapas lounge.
    Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

    ArchWeek Image

    Atlanta College of Art dorms and administrative building surround a small piazza, with Joel Shapiro's sculpture, "Untitled."
    Photo: Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Image

    Administrative Building (left) and dormitory (right) both by Renzo Piano.
    Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

    ArchWeek Image

    Admininstrative Building.
    Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

    ArchWeek Image

    Renzo Piano with models of his sail-shaped light scoops.
    Photo: Courtesy High Museum of Art

    ArchWeek Image

    Sketch of Wieland Pavilion and piazza.
    Image: Renzo Piano


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