An exhibition celebrating The Shard's architect opens at the Royal Academy of Arts

How has a building open for only five years come to epitomise the London skyline?

The answer lies in the genius of The Shard architect Renzo Piano whose life’s work is celebrated in a new show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. The Art of Making Buildings is the first exhibition to open in London during his 30 year career.

The retrospective explores the work of the 81-year-old Genoese whose unique buildings transform cityscapes and spaces the world over. It gives a glimpse into his unique talent through the lens of his 16 most significant projects, including The Shard.

The piece by piece construction of The Shard captivated London and its visitors between 2009 and 2012. Now, the public can explore in detail the design process behind the capital’s newest landmark. Those that work in and around the building will discover the subtle engineering decisions that have a huge impact on their daily lives.

Other highlights include rarely seen models, photographs and drawings of buildings such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre on the south-west Pacific Island of New Caledonia.

Equally fascinating is a focus on the architect himself. Specially commissioned photography and film introduce a softly spoken Italian with boyhood dreams of designing ‘flying vessels’. 
The centrepiece of this space is a mock utopia for fans of Piano’s work, a sculptural installation bringing together 100 of his projects on an imaginary island.

Piano was born into a family of Italian builders. After studying at Milan Polytechnic University, he worked with a variety of architects before establishing a partnership with Richard Rogers. Their audacious ‘inside out’ Pompidou Centre (1971) gained them international recognition, as well as the wrath of French traditionalists. 

In 1981 the architect founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), located in Paris, Genoa and New York. With a team of 150 staff, it has realised over 100 projects that include large cultural and institutional buildings, housing and offices, as well as urban plans for entire city districts.

At the core of his work is a great importance on crafting elegant structures that embody a sense of lightness. This is no doubt why, in 2000, UK property developer Irvine Sellar approached Piano to create a ‘vertical city’ on a site overlooking London Bridge station. 

London’s churches and history of tall ships inspired Piano to create a spire-like sculpture that ‘emerges’ from the river Thames. Its eight sloping facades or ‘shards’ create a slender shape in contrast to the bulky high rises of the past. Special extra white glass reflects the city’s changing weather and seasons.   

The exhibition provides an exceptional insight into the work, aspirations and achievements of a man who believes passionately in the possibilities of architecture. It demonstrates that far from being a straightforward art form, architecture is a complex profession that carries social, political and financial responsibilities.

“This exhibition aims to show how making buildings is a civic gesture and social responsibility. I believe passionately that architecture is about making a place for people to come together and share values.”
Renzo Piano

Exhibition Information

Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings 
Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries 
15 September 2018 – 20 January 2019 
10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm) 
Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)
Tickets from £10

Related Events

Renzo Piano in Conversation
Monday 15 October
An evening with Renzo Piano Hon RA, reflecting on his extraordinary contribution to architecture over the past 50 years. This will be a rare opportunity to hear the architect discuss his work, philosophy and life.
The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, 6.30-8pm, £20/£12