The Shard dwarfs everything in sight. The giant tower, pictured from a helicopter flying overhead, appears almost translucent as the sun sets on London.
Eighteen months into its construction, the concrete core of the new skyscraper is officially 800ft tall, with 72 floors complete. At its full height of 1,017ft, it will be Europe's tallest building. The tower, designed by world-famous architect Renzo Piano, is due to be finished next May and will consist of 82 storeys, with an observation gallery on the 72nd.
Renzo Piano has never been hidebound by tradition, having shocked many a Parisian as far back as the mid-seventies with his construction of the Pompidou Centre. In Noumea, as elsewhere, he wanted to leave his imprint of modernity, and not just for aesthetic reasons. His work is also a political gesture.
It’s hard to know how these qualities will play out amid the gloom and doom of the new economy. In some ways Mr. Piano’s refined, risk-averse architecture may be more appealing than ever. He is not out to start a revolution. His designs are about tranquillity, not conflict. The serenity of his best buildings can almost make you believe that we live in a civilized world
The new $294 million Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, which opens on Saturday, is the closest Mr. Piano has come in at least a decade to achieving this near-classical ideal. Its delicate structural frame is a sparkling counterpart to the museum’s 1893 Beaux Arts building. The light-filled galleries show the Art Institute’s marvelous collections of postwar and contemporary art in their full glory, including many works that have been buried in storage for decades. Most of all, the addition manages to weave the various strands of Chicago’s rich architectural history into a cohesive vision, one that is made more beautiful by its remarkable fragility.
The 264,000-square-foot wing is the largest expansion in the museum’s 130-year history. The addition stands behind the original building, across a set of commuter railroad tracks. The two structures are joined by a small gallery building from 1916 that bridges the tracks. Millennium Park, its far end punctuated by the swirling steel forms of Frank Gehry’s band shell, extends to the north.
The newly constructed Astrup Fearnley Museet, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Narud-Stokke-Wiig, has opened on a stunning waterfront site in the Tjuvholmen neighborhood of Oslo. The €90 million, 7000 square meter structure provides space for the museum’s collection, temporary exhibitions, a gift shop and cafe. Slender steel columns support the sail-form, glass roof that provides shelter to the weathered timber cladding, while illuminating the interior’s extensive collection of contemporary art with a soft, natural light.
Although it’s 250 feet shorter than the 80-year-old Empire State Building, it’s the first and the tallest of a new crop of skyscrapers planned or in construction in central London.
Hoping to assuage local skyscraper skeptics, Piano tailored the surface to enliven it on the skyline.
Piano has described the Shard as a “vertical city” because it stirs together offices, a hotel, apartments, and restaurants. That’s typical of super-tall towers that have risen from Abu Dhabi to Guangzhou, and Piano uses the mix to riposte such sterile office precincts as Canary Wharf.
(On the California Academy of Sciences Building) Piano, who had won the Pritzker Prize in 1998, explained his design scheme to the board that day. He would create a two-and-a-half-acre “living roof”—with hills—atop the academy, which houses three beloved San Francisco institutions: the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimball Natural History Museum. Beneath the roof, a rectangle of transparent walls would contain the museum’s traditional exhibitions: a rain forest, a theater for viewing the cosmos, a coral reef, a swamp, a habitat for penguins, and an exhibition on climate change and the earth’s future. Piano envisioned a profound connection between the building and the park: a facility in a pavilion that would be visually and functionally linked to its environment. He also proposed sustainable construction, which would use innovative technology to create the greenest museum ever built.
Piano supposedly arrived for the interview (for this commission) with only a sketchpad, while every one else arrived with scale models of their designs. He explained his ideas after visiting the site and exploring it for himself and won hands down. His charm, coupled with his savvy "whimsical" designs have made him an architectural star, but has also led to criticism by colleagues.