Renzo Piano
1,379,595 views • 15:03

Architecture is amazing, for sure. It's amazing because it's art. But you know, it's a very funny kind of art. It's an art at the frontier between art and science. It's fed by ... by real life, every day. It's driven by force of necessity. Quite amazing, quite amazing. And the life of the architect is also amazing.

You know, as an architect, at 10 o’clock in the morning, you need to be a poet, for sure. But at 11, you must become a humanist, otherwise you'd lose your direction. And at noon, you absolutely need to be a builder. You need to be able to make a building, because architecture, at the end, is the art of making buildings. Architecture is the art of making shelter for human beings. Period. And this is not easy at all. It's amazing.

Look at this. Here we are in London, at the top of the Shard of Glass. This is a building we completed a few years ago. Those people are well-trained workers, and they are assembling the top piece of the tower. Well, they look like rock climbers. They are. I mean, they are defying the force of gravity, like building does, by the way. We got 30 of those people — actually, on that site, we got more than 1,400 people, coming from 60 different nationalities. You know, this is a miracle. It's a miracle. To put together 1,400 people, coming from such different places, is a miracle. Sites are miracles. This is another one.

Let's talk about construction. Adventure, it's adventure in real life, not adventure in spirit. This guy there is a deepwater diver. From rock climbers to deepwater divers. This is in Berlin. After the fall of the Wall in '89, we built this building, connecting East Berlin to West Berlin, in Potsdamer Platz. We got on that project almost 5,000 people. Almost 5,000 people. And this is another site in Japan, building the Kansai Airport. Again, all the rock climbers, Japanese ones. You know, making buildings together is the best way to create a sense of cooperation. The sense of pride — pride is essential.

But, you know, construction, of course, is one of the reasons why architecture is amazing. But there is another one, that is maybe even more amazing. Because architecture is the art of making shelter for communities, not just for individuals — communities and society at large. And society is never the same. The world keeps changing. And changes are difficult to swallow by people. And architecture is a mirror of those changes. Architecture is the built expression of those changes. So, this is why it is so difficult, because those changes create adventure. They create adventure, and architecture is adventure.

This is the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, a long time ago. That was back in time, '77. This was a spaceship landing in the middle of Paris. Together with my friend in adventure, Richard Rogers, we were, at the time, young bad boys. Young, bad boys. (Laughter) It was really only a few years after May '68. So it was a rebellion, pure rebellion. The idea was to make the proof that cultural buildings should not be intimidating. They should create a sense of curiosity. This is the way to create a cultural place. Curiosity is the beginning of a cultural attitude.

And there's a piazza there, you can see that piazza. And a piazza is the beginning of urban life. A piazza is the place where people meet. And they mix experience. And they mix ages. And, you know, in some way, you create the essence of the city. And since then, we made, in the office, so many other places for people.

Here, in Rome, is a concert hall. Another place for people. This building inside is actually designed by the sound, you can see. It's flirting with sound. And this is the Kansai Airport, in Japan. To make a building, sometimes you need to make an island, and we made the island. The building is more than one mile long. It looks like an immense glider, landing on the ground.

And this is in San Francisco. Another place for people. This building is the California Academy of Sciences. And we planted on that roof — thousands and thousands of plants that use the humidity of the air, instead of pumping water from the water table. The roof is a living roof, actually. And this building was made Platinum LEED. The LEED is the system to measure, of course, the sustainability of a building. So this was also a place for people that will stay a long time.

And this is actually New York. This is the new Whitney, in the Meatpacking District in New York. Well, another flying vessel. Another place for people. Here we are in Athens, the Niarchos Foundation. It's a library, it's an open house, a concert hall and a big park. This building is also a Platinum LEED building. This building actually captures the sun's energy with that roof.

But, you know, making a building a place for people is good. Making libraries, making concert halls, making universities, making museums is good, because you create a place that's open, accessible. You create a building for a better world, for sure. But there is something else that makes architecture amazing, even more. And this is the fact that architecture doesn't just answer to need and necessity, but also to desires — yes, desires — dreams, aspirations. This is what architecture does. Even the most modest hut on earth is not just a roof. It's more than a roof. It's telling a story; it's telling a story about the identity of the people living in that hut. Individuals.

Architecture is the art of telling stories. Like this one. In London: the Shard of Glass. Well, this building is the tallest building in Western Europe. It goes up more than 300 meters in the air, to breathe fresh air. The facets of this building are inclined, and they reflect the sky of London, that is never the same. After rain, everything becomes bluish. In the sunny evening, everything is red. It's something that is difficult to explain. It's what we call the soul of a building.

On this picture on the left, you have the Menil Collection, used a long time ago. It's a museum. On the right is the Harvard Art Museum. Both those two buildings flirt with light. Light is probably one of the most essential materials in architecture. And this is in Amsterdam. This building is flirting with water. And this is my office, on the sea. Well, this is flirting with work. Actually, we enjoy working there. And that cable car is the little cable car that goes up to there.

That's "The New York Times" in New York. Well, this is playing with transparency. Again, the sense of light, the sense of transparency. On the left here, you have the Magic Lantern in Japan, in Ginza, in Tokyo. And in the center is a monastery in the forest. This monastery is playing with the silence and the forest. And a museum, a science museum. This is about levitation. And this is in the center of Paris, in the belly of the whale. This is the Pathé Foundation in Paris. All those buildings have something in common: it's that something is searching for desire, for dreams.

And that's me.


Well, it's me on my sailing boat. Flirting with breeze. Well, there's not a very good reason to show you this picture.


I'm trying, I'm trying.

You know, one thing is clear: I love sailing, for sure. I actually also love designing sailing boats. But I love sailing, because sailing is associated with slowness. And ... and silence. And the sense of suspension. And there is another thing that this picture says. It says that I'm Italian.


Well, there is very little I can do about that.


I'm Italian, and I love beauty. I love beauty.

Well, let's go sailing, I want to take you sailing here, to this place, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Center. It's for the Kanaky ethnic group. It's in Nouméa, New Caledonia. This place is for art. Art and nature. And those buildings actually flirt with the wind, with the trade winds. They have a sound, they have a voice, those buildings. I'm showing this because it's about beauty. It's about pure beauty.

And let's talk about beauty for a moment. Beauty is like the bird of paradise: the very moment you try to catch it, it flies away. Your arm is too short. But beauty is not a frivolous idea. It's the opposite. In my native language, that is Italian, "beautiful" is "bello." In Spanish, "beauty" is "belleza." In Greek, "beautiful" is "kalos." When you add "agathos," that means "beautiful and good." In no one of those languages, "beautiful" just means "beautiful." It also means "good."

Real beauty is when the invisible joins the visible, coming on surface. And this doesn't apply only to art or nature. This applies to science, human curiosity, solidarity — that's the reason why you may say, "This is a beautiful person," "That's a beautiful mind." This, this is the beauty that can change people into better people, by switching a special light in their eyes. And making buildings for this beauty makes cities better places to live. And better cities make better citizens.

Well, this beauty — this universal beauty, I should say — is one of the few things that can change the world. Believe me, this beauty will save the world. One person at a time, but it will do it.

Thank you.