At the heart of the exhibition is a fantasy island featuring scale models of more than 100 of Piano's most famous buildings. The centrepiece comes with a map and is flanked by a poignant series of black and white photographs of Piano on construction sites all over the world; they are the only nod to the emotional in an otherwise technical narrative. Either side are sixteen square white tables, complete with directors' chairs and reading material, each one dedicated to a Piano building.
Installation shot: Renzo Piano exhibition Royal Academy
Close inspection of the archival material on display reveals just how experimental and controversial Piano's buildings are. It becomes clear that the son of a Genoese construction family is as involved in the structural systems and individual building components of his structures as in the initial design process itself. Although renowned for his characteristic emphasis on sociability and elegant structures that embody a sense of lightness, no two designs are the same; their shapes, structures, heights, materials and purposes are incomparable. All, however, celebrate people and breathe levity into dense urban landscapes: 'lightness is a victory over gravity', Piano later affirms.
Thankfully Piano's aspiration for lightness is deftly reflected in the curatorial layout of the exhibition. Mobiles like puppets dangle from the ceilings of the galleries and float harmoniously, illuminated by the shafts of natural light in the recently renovated Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. But, with such an extensive display of architectural drawings, models and signature full-scale maquettes, you'd be forgiven for missing the ingenuity of Piano's designs.
In this densely populated exhibition space, the majesty of Piano's designs is oft lost. Piano's oeuvre suffocates in the technical analysis of his creative process. Navigation between tables becomes tedious, and interest wanes rapidly in the austere, library-like atmosphere of the exhibition space. For such a visionary and a man reputed to have rejected the traditions of the Italian Academy in the 60s, it's a total travesty.
Why, oh why, is he not given the space he deserves to soar?
|What||Renzo Piano exhibition, Royal Academy|
|Where||Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
15 Sep 18 – 20 Jan 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Please click here for more information|