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TED2018

Renzo Piano: The genius behind some of the world's most famous buildings

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Legendary architect Renzo Piano -- the mind behind such indelible buildings as The Shard in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the new Whitney Museum of Art in New York City -- takes us on a stunning tour through his life's work. With the aid of gorgeous imagery, Piano makes an eloquent case for architecture as the answer to our dreams, aspirations and desire for beauty. "Universal beauty is one of the few things that can change the world," he says. "This beauty will save the world. One person at a time, but it will do it."

- Architect
Renzo Piano is a builder of shelters for human beings. And communities. Full bio

Architecture is amazing, for sure.
00:12
It's amazing because it's art.
00:17
But you know, it's a very
funny kind of art.
00:20
It's an art at the frontier
between art and science.
00:23
It's fed by ...
00:27
by real life, every day.
00:31
It's driven by force of necessity.
00:33
Quite amazing, quite amazing.
00:37
And the life of the architect
is also amazing.
00:39
You know, as an architect,
at 10 o’clock in the morning,
00:45
you need to be a poet, for sure.
00:48
But at 11,
00:51
you must become a humanist,
00:53
otherwise you'd lose your direction.
00:56
And at noon, you absolutely
need to be a builder.
00:59
You need to be able to make a building,
01:04
because architecture, at the end,
is the art of making buildings.
01:08
Architecture is the art of making
shelter for human beings.
01:13
Period.
01:19
And this is not easy at all.
01:20
It's amazing.
01:23
Look at this.
01:25
Here we are in London,
01:27
at the top of the Shard of Glass.
01:29
This is a building
we completed a few years ago.
01:35
Those people are well-trained workers,
01:38
and they are assembling
the top piece of the tower.
01:45
Well, they look like rock climbers.
01:51
They are.
01:56
I mean, they are defying
the force of gravity,
01:57
like building does, by the way.
02:00
We got 30 of those people --
02:03
actually, on that site,
we got more than 1,400 people,
02:05
coming from 60 different nationalities.
02:10
You know, this is a miracle.
It's a miracle.
02:15
To put together 1,400 people,
02:18
coming from such different
places, is a miracle.
02:21
Sites are miracles.
02:24
This is another one.
02:27
Let's talk about construction.
02:29
Adventure, it's adventure in real life,
02:30
not adventure in spirit.
02:34
This guy there is a deepwater diver.
02:37
From rock climbers to deepwater divers.
02:41
This is in Berlin.
02:45
After the fall of the Wall in '89,
02:47
we built this building, connecting
East Berlin to West Berlin,
02:49
in Potsdamer Platz.
02:54
We got on that project
almost 5,000 people.
02:56
Almost 5,000 people.
03:02
And this is another site in Japan,
03:04
building the Kansai Airport.
03:08
Again, all the rock climbers,
Japanese ones.
03:11
You know, making buildings together
03:14
is the best way to create
a sense of cooperation.
03:17
The sense of pride -- pride is essential.
03:22
But, you know, construction, of course,
03:26
is one of the reasons
why architecture is amazing.
03:30
But there is another one,
that is maybe even more amazing.
03:34
Because architecture is the art
03:39
of making shelter for communities,
03:42
not just for individuals --
03:47
communities and society at large.
03:50
And society is never the same.
03:53
The world keeps changing.
03:56
And changes are difficult
to swallow by people.
03:59
And architecture is a mirror
of those changes.
04:03
Architecture is the built expression
of those changes.
04:08
So, this is why it is so difficult,
04:14
because those changes create adventure.
04:19
They create adventure,
and architecture is adventure.
04:24
This is the Centre
Georges Pompidou in Paris,
04:27
a long time ago.
04:30
That was back in time, '77.
04:32
This was a spaceship
landing in the middle of Paris.
04:36
Together with my friend
in adventure, Richard Rogers,
04:42
we were, at the time, young bad boys.
04:47
Young, bad boys.
04:51
(Laughter)
04:52
It was really only
a few years after May '68.
04:53
So it was a rebellion, pure rebellion.
04:58
The idea was to make
05:02
the proof that cultural buildings
should not be intimidating.
05:05
They should create a sense of curiosity.
05:10
This is the way to create
a cultural place.
05:14
Curiosity is the beginning
of a cultural attitude.
05:17
And there's a piazza there,
you can see that piazza.
05:22
And a piazza is the beginning
of urban life.
05:26
A piazza is the place where people meet.
05:31
And they mix experience.
05:34
And they mix ages.
05:37
And, you know, in some way,
05:40
you create the essence of the city.
05:44
And since then, we made, in the office,
so many other places for people.
05:50
Here, in Rome, is a concert hall.
05:56
Another place for people.
06:00
This building inside is actually
designed by the sound, you can see.
06:02
It's flirting with sound.
06:07
And this is the Kansai Airport,
06:09
in Japan.
06:12
To make a building, sometimes
you need to make an island,
06:14
and we made the island.
06:17
The building is more than one mile long.
06:19
It looks like an immense glider,
landing on the ground.
06:23
And this is in San Francisco.
06:27
Another place for people.
06:29
This building is the California
Academy of Sciences.
06:31
And we planted on that roof --
06:35
thousands and thousands of plants
that use the humidity of the air,
06:39
instead of pumping water
from the water table.
06:45
The roof is a living roof, actually.
06:49
And this building was made Platinum LEED.
06:51
The LEED is the system
to measure, of course,
06:55
the sustainability of a building.
06:58
So this was also a place for people
07:01
that will stay a long time.
07:05
And this is actually New York.
07:08
This is the new Whitney,
07:10
in the Meatpacking District in New York.
07:12
Well, another flying vessel.
07:17
Another place for people.
07:21
Here we are in Athens,
the Niarchos Foundation.
07:23
It's a library,
07:26
it's an open house, a concert hall
07:28
and a big park.
07:32
This building is also
a Platinum LEED building.
07:34
This building actually captures
the sun's energy with that roof.
07:40
But, you know, making a building
a place for people is good.
07:47
Making libraries, making concert halls,
07:53
making universities,
making museums is good,
07:57
because you create a place
that's open, accessible.
08:00
You create a building
for a better world, for sure.
08:05
But there is something else
08:09
that makes architecture
amazing, even more.
08:13
And this is the fact that
08:17
architecture doesn't just answer
to need and necessity,
08:20
but also to desires -- yes, desires --
dreams, aspirations.
08:26
This is what architecture does.
08:33
Even the most modest hut on earth
08:35
is not just a roof.
08:40
It's more than a roof.
08:42
It's telling a story;
08:43
it's telling a story about the identity
of the people living in that hut.
08:45
Individuals.
08:50
Architecture is the art
of telling stories.
08:52
Like this one.
08:56
In London: the Shard of Glass.
08:58
Well, this building is the tallest
building in Western Europe.
09:00
It goes up more than 300 meters
in the air, to breathe fresh air.
09:06
The facets of this building are inclined,
09:11
and they reflect the sky of London,
that is never the same.
09:15
After rain, everything becomes bluish.
09:19
In the sunny evening, everything is red.
09:23
It's something
that is difficult to explain.
09:27
It's what we call the soul of a building.
09:31
On this picture on the left,
you have the Menil Collection,
09:35
used a long time ago.
09:38
It's a museum.
09:40
On the right is the Harvard Art Museum.
09:41
Both those two buildings flirt with light.
09:44
Light is probably one of the most
essential materials in architecture.
09:48
And this is in Amsterdam.
09:54
This building is flirting with water.
09:57
And this is my office, on the sea.
10:01
Well, this is flirting with work.
10:05
Actually, we enjoy working there.
10:08
And that cable car is the little cable car
that goes up to there.
10:11
That's "The New York Times" in New York.
10:17
Well, this is playing with transparency.
10:20
Again, the sense of light,
the sense of transparency.
10:24
On the left here, you have
the Magic Lantern in Japan,
10:29
in Ginza, in Tokyo.
10:32
And in the center
is a monastery in the forest.
10:35
This monastery is playing
with the silence and the forest.
10:39
And a museum, a science museum.
10:44
This is about levitation.
10:47
And this is in the center of Paris,
10:51
in the belly of the whale.
10:54
This is the Pathé Foundation in Paris.
10:56
All those buildings
have something in common:
11:01
it's that something is searching
for desire, for dreams.
11:04
And that's me.
11:11
(Laughter)
11:12
Well, it's me on my sailing boat.
11:13
Flirting with breeze.
11:17
Well, there's not a very good reason
to show you this picture.
11:20
(Laughter)
11:25
I'm trying, I'm trying.
11:28
You know, one thing is clear:
I love sailing, for sure.
11:30
I actually also love
designing sailing boats.
11:35
But I love sailing, because sailing
is associated with slowness.
11:39
And ...
11:44
and silence.
11:46
And the sense of suspension.
11:48
And there is another thing
that this picture says.
11:51
It says that I'm Italian.
11:54
(Laughter)
11:56
Well, there is very little
I can do about that.
11:59
(Laughter)
12:02
I'm Italian, and I love beauty.
12:04
I love beauty.
12:07
Well, let's go sailing,
I want to take you sailing here,
12:09
to this place,
12:13
in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
12:15
This is the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Center.
12:20
It's for the Kanaky ethnic group.
12:23
It's in Nouméa, New Caledonia.
12:26
This place is for art.
12:29
Art and nature.
12:32
And those buildings
actually flirt with the wind,
12:34
with the trade winds.
12:39
They have a sound,
they have a voice, those buildings.
12:41
I'm showing this
because it's about beauty.
12:44
It's about pure beauty.
12:47
And let's talk about beauty for a moment.
12:50
Beauty is like the bird of paradise:
12:53
the very moment you try
to catch it, it flies away.
12:58
Your arm is too short.
13:02
But beauty is not a frivolous idea.
13:06
It's the opposite.
13:11
In my native language, that is Italian,
13:13
"beautiful" is "bello."
13:15
In Spanish, "beauty" is "belleza."
13:19
In Greek, "beautiful" is "kalos."
13:24
When you add "agathos,"
that means "beautiful and good."
13:30
In no one of those languages,
"beautiful" just means "beautiful."
13:35
It also means "good."
13:40
Real beauty is when the invisible
13:43
joins the visible, coming on surface.
13:48
And this doesn't apply
only to art or nature.
13:52
This applies to science,
human curiosity, solidarity --
13:58
that's the reason why you may say,
14:03
"This is a beautiful person,"
14:07
"That's a beautiful mind."
14:10
This, this is the beauty
that can change people
14:13
into better people,
14:17
by switching a special light
in their eyes.
14:18
And making buildings for this beauty
14:22
makes cities better places to live.
14:25
And better cities
14:28
make better citizens.
14:31
Well, this beauty --
14:34
this universal beauty, I should say --
14:37
is one of the few things
that can change the world.
14:41
Believe me, this beauty
will save the world.
14:46
One person at a time, but it will do it.
14:50
Thank you.
14:55
(Applause)
14:56

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About the speaker:

Renzo Piano - Architect
Renzo Piano is a builder of shelters for human beings. And communities.

Why you should listen

Renzo Piano is an architect and legend. Playing with transparency, light and curves while creating buildings with utility and permanence, he's the mind behind the Shard in London, the new Whitney Museum at Gansevoort in New York and the Kansai International Airport Terminal in Osaka, Japan, and he co-created the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

As he writes: "Since I was a child looking at the shiploads suspended over the harbor of my hometown, Genoa, I dreamt about fighting against gravity. And this is what I tried to accomplish in all these years of work: making buildings (one of the heaviest things you can make) that float above grounds. I also like to create buildings that could be shelter for human beings: good places for people to meet and share experiences. This is also the way cities become more beautiful cities, and this is why it is so important to me. In my job you need to be different things at a time: a builder in the morning, a poet at lunchtime and a humanist in the afternoon. It is one of the oldest and most adventurous things you can do. I can't think of a better way to spend my time every day."

More profile about the speaker
Renzo Piano | Speaker | TED.com