Renzo Piano was born to a family of builders in Genoa, Italy, in 1937. He transcended those roots by becoming an architect, but his affinity and appreciation for the hand-built is reflected in the name of his Genoa-based company, Renzo Piano Building Workshop. From 1965 to 1970, he worked with Louis Kahn in Philadelphia. In his almost 50-year career, he has designed and built residences and commercial buildings, churches, transportation terminals, bridges, boats, cars, and many museums. This year, in London, he completed The Shard, reportedly the tallest building in Western Europe. His buildings are found around the globe and have brought him international awards, many of them the highest accolades that can be bestowed, including architecture’s greatest honor, the 1998 Pritzker Prize.
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Star-Telegram Piano Pavilion interactive graphic
Reporter: Gaile Robinson; Photography: Joyce Marshall, Rodger Mallison, Paul Moseley, Kimbell Museum, Thinkstock;Design and graphics: Clif Bosler, Marissa Hall, Steve Wilson
Nasher Sculpture Center
The Menil Collection
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Astrup Fearnley Museet
Centre Georges Pompidou
Beyeler Foundation Museum
The Menil Collection1987 HoustonRenzo Piano’s first important museum commission was Houston’s Menil Collection, and subsequently, the Cy Twombly Gallery on the Menil campus, in 1992. It was while designing the Menil that Piano first grappled with sun-protective roof constructions that filter harmful direct UV light while washing the inside galleries with indirect light. The Menil is a compound of small buildings that sits comfortably in a residential neighborhood. It is often cited as Piano’s best work.
Photo courtesy Kimbell Museum
Beyeler Foundation Museum1997 Riehen, SwitzerlandThe success of the Menil Collection brought Piano to the attention of Swiss art collector Ernst Beyeler, who wanted a Piano-designed museum for his exceptional art collection. He envisioned a building that would be integrated into the grounds of the 18th-century Villa Berower and would use natural daylight to light the collection. “It is not enough for the light to be perfect. You also need calm, serenity and even a voluptuous quality linked to contemplation of the works of art,” Piano says.
Photo: Mark Niedermann
Nasher Sculpture Center2003 DallasSurrounded by skyscrapers in the heart of downtown Dallas, the Nasher Sculpture Center, with its serene enclosed sculpture garden, is an oasis amid the city noise. Travertine walls divide the museum building’s interior space into five pavilions, three of them galleries. The 1.5-acre garden has about 25 large-scale sculptures on view. It is the only venue in the U.S. to exclusively exhibit modern and contemporary sculpture.
Centre Georges Pompidou1977 ParisThere was an international competition for the 10-story, 1.1 million-square-foot multidisciplinary arts center, and it was won by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1971. The project launched the young architects’ careers, and the building has become an iconic emblem of the city. Although when it first debuted, with color-coded pipes across its facade (blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for circulation), it was considered quite revolutionary.
Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock
Astrup Fearnley Museet2012 Oslo, NorwayThe Tjuvholmen cultural quarter in Oslo includes the Astrup Fearnley Museet, an art museum that needed galleries for a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. There is an adjacent office building with exhibition space for a private art collection. The complex also includes a public sculpture park, swimming beach and promenade. The water’s-edge location offers the museum stunning views across the fjord and the city center.
Architectural details abound
Many of the elements in the pavilion are Renzo Piano signatures, and others are echoes of the Kimbell Art Museum designed by Louis Kahn.
Signature roofRenzo Piano goes to great pains to create art museum roof systems that block harmful UV rays while still allowing light to permeate the galleries. For the pavilion, he designed a three-layer roof system that has aluminum louvers with photovoltaic cells over fritted glass panels; on the inside is a silklike scrim stretched between the large roof beams. This complicated system adjusts to the sun’s position, modulating the light inside. The roof also extends over the walls for a shading effect.
LandscapingMany of the old trees on the Kimbell campus had to be removed before construction could begin, and several of them were diseased and needed replacing. To landscape the 4 acres of grounds, 320 trees have been planted, including 47 30-foot elms and 52 yaupon hollies in front of the Kimbell to replace the grove of yaupons that had overgrown their location.
Green roofApproximately 4 acres of the 9.5-acre Kimbell campus is green space. To conserve as much of the park as possible, a green roof was used over the light-sensitive gallery, auditorium balcony, offices and education center. The thick swath of grass with steep slopes on the north and south sides should make for some interesting lawn games and daredevil sledding opportunities. It is bordered to the east by the light well to the auditorium, and on the west, by a waist-high cable fence.
ConcreteThe exterior walls and columns are made of architectural concrete that was fabricated with the oversight of two companies of concrete consultants, local contractors and a subcontractor specialist. The secret ingredient is a 2 percent mix of titanium to get that light-gray sheen and silky-smooth surface. Early test walls line an underground passageway between the old building and new one. It isn’t open to the public, but the transition from ugly to lovely is played out in wall-size swatches.
Light wellsSeveral areas of the building are underground — the gallery for light-sensitive works, the auditorium and the education center. To infuse these areas with natural light, Piano created light wells. For the gallery, it is a grass-stepped procession from ground level to a wall-size window. For the auditorium and classroom, it is a steep, two-story trough with a concrete wall on one side and a glass window wall on the opposite. It echoes the light well outside the director’s office in the Kimbell Art Museum.
EchoesSome of the largest spatial considerations of the Piano Pavilion echo those of the Kimbell Art Museum. Both buildings have a tripartite facade with a central lobby and two gallery wings on either side. The use of columns, raked staircases and soft, diffused natural light are the common denominators on the inside. Piano was quite generous in making his building inclusive of his predecessor’s. He uses the facade of the Kahn as the focal point upon arrival at his building and from the lobby.
GalleriesThree large galleries have been built in the pavilion. Two of them have become the semipermanent homes of the Asian, African and pre-Columbian collections. The Asian collection is currently installed in the light-sensitive gallery, so named for its ability to completely block out any daylight that might harm works on paper. The permanent collection is temporarily installed in the largest gallery that was designed for the special exhibits. However, it looks so good in the new space, it may return here on occasion.
LobbyWhen arriving at the pavilion through the parking garage, the first thing the visitor sees is the front of the Kimbell Art Museum. This has long been an underappreciated vista, as most visitors entered through the Kimbell’s back door. Now it is the view from the lobby of the pavilion. This grand entrance room eventually will house a cafe and ticket counter, but for now it is kept open and unobstructed to handle the succession of receptions and parties to welcome the Piano Pavilion to the Kimbell campus.
AuditoriumThe auditorium in the pavilion will seat 298 people, 33 of them in the balcony. (The Kahn auditorium seats 182.) The red seats were favored by Piano, and when agreed to by the Kimbell board, they sparked a rash of Renzo Red upholstery that showed up in the building. Renzo Red for office chairs, cafe chairs, board room chairs and three Knoll sofas in the south gallery. A new Steinway grand piano was purchased for the auditorium, specifically chosen by Olga Kern, the 2001 Cliburn gold medalist.
MaterialsGlass, concrete, steel and wood are the prevailing materials in the pavilion. Yet they rarely seem to touch. The building is held together seemingly by air. Intersections of walls and floors have a precise gap that speaks to meticulous workmanship and the intricacies of Piano’s design. The roof especially drives home this floating appearance, as each layer of louvers, glass and scrim is separated by several inches of space. Even the glass half-walls around the stairwells float above the floor.
Energy efficiencyThe pavilion will use half the energy of the Kahn building because of innovations in energy-saving design technology in the past 40 years. Solar energy is captured in the roof’s photovoltaic cells, 36 460-foot geothermal heat wells will store energy, and a breathable floor in the galleries will distribute low-velocity air. Low-energy LEDs and high-specification glass will contribute to the energy savings of the pavilion.
TransparencyOne thing lacking in the Kahn building is a sense of transparency. Light can be quite harmful to artworks, and unless it is carefully controlled, it is a detriment in museum design. Piano has made that control a specialty, and the pavilion has so many glass walls around interior courtyards, surrounding the education classrooms and on either side of the lobby that, in some places, it is possible to see through the building. During construction, warning stickers were affixed to the layers of glass walls because they were almost invisible.
A tour of The Piano Pavilion with Eric Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum just before the building’s completion.
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A video walk-through
Photos: S-T/Joyce Marshall
This is the gallery for light-sensitive works; currently it is installed with the Kimbell’s Asian collection. Because of the protective nature of the room, many of the Kimbell’s Japanese paintings are on exhibit.
The Kimbell’s African and pre-Columbian collections have moved into this gallery. It will become their semi-permanent home. This area also has a small gift shop to service the Piano Pavilion.
The largest of the three galleries was designed to display temporary exhibitions. Currently it houses the Kimbell’s permanent collection of old master works. It has proved so adaptable that it may host the permanent collection more often.
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North gallery and shop
Star-Telegram 360º videos by Rodger Mallison; processing by Steve Wilson