Renzo Piano on Prince Charles & Performance Anxiety

Renzo Piano is one of the funniest architects we’ve ever heard speak. For proof, read through some of the Pritzker Prize winner’s best zingers below, and click through the photos above to watch the guy on the left try not to completely lose it…

We heard Renzo’s biting humor at a press conference last week at the Cersaie exhibition in Bologna, Italy. (Apologies for the blurry photos. We were stationed at the back of the room, and it was a mad house.)

When reporters asked Renzo how he felt about Prince Charles’ intent to curtail Richard Rogers’ modern Chelsea Barracks project, as well as several other modern developments in London, Renzo responded with wit and venom: This man puts his nose everywhere. He likes watercolors, Renzo shrugged. That’s OK, but he has a negative analysis of modern architecture… It makes no sense to do things the way people did in the past. Waving his hands in derision, the architect continued, The UK is a democracy. I’m sure he will lose the battle. People in the UK have their own opinions. He cannot replace all of the democratic system.

On the question of sustainability, the architect conceded, The issue of building sustainably is burdensome… The problem is not just cutting cost, but developing a language. This language has always resulted from need. When you provide an honest and loyal answer to the needs of the people and also their desires, then you’re a good architect. Otherwise, you’re just a charlatan… It’s not just that we need to consume less, but that we need a way to get out of this tragedy of performance anxiety—the idea of making things bigger and bigger! (Apparently the joke is funnier in Italian, since the Italians in the room all burst into laughter at once.)

When asked about his advice for young architects in the field, Renzo waxed poetic on the joy of making architecture. It’s a beautiful job; it’s an adventurous job; it’s extraordinary… you breathe with the pace of the earth. He did, however, make a point that young architects need to pay their dues and learn their craft before embarking on major projects, comparing untrained architects to Karaoke singers: Those who sing Karaoke believe they’re great singers, he remarked, but they’re just poor, sad people…It [architecture] takes being sly. You have to take and give back from your colleagues and from the trade.

He followed these comments with a hint of self-deprecation: You shouldn’t really listen to anyone… There are so many people giving suggestions. You have to listen to yourself and have a bit of rebellion. Leaning forward, he threw an aside to the crowd: I was a little bit of a rebel.

Photos: Sarah Coffey