Renzo Piano: Irrationality and Architecture

The Guardian's profile of architect Renzo Piano today fits into a running dialogue I've been having on my blog and with friends about the role of art in society. I keep coming back to a conversation I had with Walker chief curator Philippe Vergne in which he says that, basically, because art doesn't compute, because it doesn't fit into a progress-oriented, Cartesian mindset, it has value. That is, one of art's values is to simply be a rare alternative to achievement, forward motion, and strict logic. My friend Jim, who forwarded the Guardian piece, champions the "irrationality" of art. An excerpt:
"A piazza is not a plaza," fumes Piano. "The plaza is the theme park of the piazza; the plaza is the commercial version. A piazza is an empty space with no function. This is what Europeans understand." A space without function allows one to be "in the moment", he says, and to counter what he sees as a major flaw in modern life - the habit of interpreting all experience in the light of achievement, as a means to an end. We should, he thinks, learn to lighten up, and the creation of empty, purposeless spaces within cities might encourage that. "You don't have to struggle to give function to every single corner. You can just wait and see and enjoy."
But he's a realist about how his artform can contribute to the collective good. When asked about the Paris riots, he answered:
"The big topic of today, and of the next 20 years, will be peripheries. How you can transform peripheries into a town. What is happening today in Paris is happening everywhere... Now people are starting to understand that the real challenge of the next 30 years is to turn peripheries into cities. The peripheries are the cities that will be. Or not. Or will never be.".... France's politicians have failed to understand that for a community to work, it cannot be a "ghetto"; it must be a place in which people work, and sleep, and socialise and, most importantly, "merge" in some way.

He says ghettoes are "against the idea of a city. Cities are a place of tolerance, by definition, where difference must merge. It's tragically predictable, what happened, and it will probably happen again if something isn't done. It is also because of the government; these people don't understand the important of tolerance." He is not naive enough to believe that his field of endeavour can fix this. But does he believe that architecture can help build that tolerance? "Architecture in some way has the duty to suggest behaviour. In some way. Places are the portrait of communities, and if the place is impossible, the community becomes impossible."

1 comment:

Adam said...

Hi Paul,

Just came across your blog, great read so far - enjoyed this piece and the autograph post.

Keep up the good work.

ps: some of my comments on the value of art can be found here.