City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Excellent, concise and insightful interview with Renzo Piano in The Guardian, conducted by Emma Brockes. Some excerpts:

On Genoa and port cities:

“Every Sunday his father would take him to Genoa’s harbour and Piano would watch the ships, which he thought of as “immense buildings that move”. When they sailed, he watched them cross the water and imagined that they were flying. These notions converged in his mind to form an idea of buildings as structures that “fought against gravity”, as “miracles”. What he calls his “obsession with lightness” – lightness as both a physical and an emotional property – comes from these experiences. Piano describes Genoa as “the austere version of Venice – Venice is the city of extroversion and Genoa the city of introversion” – and says he carries the memory of it in his “skin”.”

On optimism and progress:

“Piano’s other great linchpin is his optimism, which he relates to the experience of growing up during the postwar reconstruction, particularly since his father was so intimately involved in it. This was not architecture as decoration, or art, but as a solid, practical, desperately needed provision for Italy’s poorest families. “I learned that, day by day, you make a better street, a better road, a better walkway, better houses, better something.” Of course, he says, memories of the war fade, “but your chromosomes remember”. He believes in progress; the idea that “time gives humanity the possibility to run away from tragedy. That makes a lot of sense.” And so the foundations upon which he built his career were laid. He is not romantic about human nature, however. When he talks about progress, he is careful to separate technological advance from, say, “ethics”, which he says, smiling wryly, show no signs of improving.”

This last point drifts into a discussion of Paris and the importance of addressing the peripheries in contemporary cities – addressing what the city means:

“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. It is mad, mad, and the insensitivity of people and politicians . . . They create ghettos. In Paris it is particularly bad. 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.”

“The mistake, he says, has been a conceptual one. 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.”

The Guardian: Q: What can be done to improve the suburbs of Paris? A: People are starting to understand that the real challenge is to turn peripheries into cities


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