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Architecture Professor's New Book Analyzes Key Works of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

In his new book, Edgar Stach, PhD—professor of architecture and director of the Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Architecture and the Built Environment—decodes the relationship between space, structure and light in some of the most important contemporary art museums in the world built by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW).

Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Space - Detail - Light” (Birkhäuser), a 160-page analysis of nine unique museums developed over the past 25 years by RPBW, includes 220 color illustrations and 200 mostly three-dimensional drawings produced by Stach. Revealing an intimate relationship between the exhibition space, the artwork and the natural lighting conditions, it is the second in a book series conceptualized by Stach.

The first book, “Mies van der Rohe: Space – Material – Detail,” was initially launched at the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany in October 2017. It described 14 projects spanning from Europe in the 1920s to the United States in the late 1960s, and analyzed the interrelation between construction and design expression.

The Pritzker laureate Renzo Piano is recognized worldwide as one of the most renowned architects of our time. Central elements of his aesthetics include the playful use of natural light, the transparency of his buildings and their fine detailing.

“These nine buildings illustrate the mastery of RPBW when it comes to creating architecture through space, detail and light, ultimately making magical spaces in which to experience artwork.” Stach explained. “Each building has mythical spaces and is responsive to its given site. Each one presents in a unique manner of integrating the building with the landscape, while still maintaining a dialogue with the specific collection of artworks.

Edgar Stach, PhD

What is your background?

I am a professor of architecture at Thomas Jefferson University, and previously taught at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, the University of Tennessee, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. I teach architectural design, technology and methods of construction.

Educated in Germany and Austria, I studied architecture at the RWTH Aachen University and the TU Wien. I received my Dr.-Ing. (PhD) from the TU Braunschweig in Germany for a thesis on design principles for daylighting systems in museums.

My main focus at Jefferson is leading the Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities, a new institute which supports transdisciplinary research, education and innovation to advance the development of the urban environment into smart and healthy cities through innovative collaboration across the architecture, design, engineering, health and science disciplines.

What inspired you to create this book, and what, in particular, interested you about Renzo Piano?

I studied architecture at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany at a time when buildings like Renzo Piano’s Centre Georges-Pompidou Art Center in Paris—one of the most avant-garde and iconic high-tech buildings of our time—changed in a radical fashion the architectural style in the 1980s and 1990s. The postmodern style with its fake classic ornament was gone and replaced by the new high-tech style.

As students, we embraced the new architecture and its technologies, and we followed our architecture heroes Norman Foster, Peter Rice, Richard Rogers Nicolas Grimshaw, Renzo Piano and others. Lightweight structures, high-tech building envelopes, transparency and glass were the new themes.

As a young architect, I started my career in the office of Christoph Ingenhoven in Düsseldorf, one of the leading international architects committed to sustainable architecture.

As a licensed architect, my practice focuses on synthesizing science, research and technology that embraces energy efficiency, ecological sensitivity and environmental responsibility.

My research focuses on technology and design, structure and form as well as energy and performance. I’ve had the chance to visit most of Renzo Piano’s buildings in Europe and the United States For me, The Menil Collection in Houston, S.R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture, the Fondation Beyeler in Basel and the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia are still exemplary in their reduced aesthetics as buildings that demonstrate his architectural philosophy of the “synthesis of form, space, structure and light.”

What did you enjoy most about making this book?

Renzo Piano views architecture as multiple levels of value, extending from the entirely functional to the realm of pure art. He is perhaps the world’s most prolific museum designer.

He and his practice, RPBW, are known for their sensitive and poetic creation of space, delicate and refined architectural details, and transparent and natural light.

In 1998, Renzo Piano was awarded the Pritzker Prize, with the jury comparing him to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, while highlighting “his intellectual curiosity and problem-solving techniques as broad and far ranging as those earlier masters of his native land.”

It was fascinating and inspiring to unlock his architectural beliefs by analyzing his original drawings and writings. One of the most powerful aspects of Renzo Piano’s museum architecture throughout

his career is his endeavor to bring natural light into the interiors in the most imaginative ways. Piano’s lighting is modulated, calm, dynamic, accentuated, contemplative or bright, depending on the artwork and the ambience needed to support the art.

Renzo Piano embraces in his architecture the synthesis of form, space, structure and detail infused with light. Each of his museum buildings in its entirety represents a continuum that coherently incorporates all spatial, construction and perception requirements.

Over 25 years, he continued to explore the same primary themes of space, detail and light. His buildings are timeless and have lost nothing of their singular presence. In chronological order, this book demonstrates the interdependence between construction and expression by making use of a set of construction drawings and diagrams.

What were some of the biggest challenges along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Working with so many archives and different resources was sometimes difficult. This book was supported by original documents and materials from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, The Menil Collection’s Cy Twombly Gallery, the Beyeler Foundation, the Zentrum Paul Klee, the High Museum of Art, The Broad contemporary art museum, the Nasher Sculpture Center, Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Art Center and the Morgan Library and Museum.

The book’s production—including the layout, writing the essay, the translation into German and English, photo editing and reprography of photos and original drawings, and final editorial corrections—took about 24 months. This book was made possible by the contributions of many individuals and institutions, to all of whom I wish to express my sincere gratitude.

I’m also grateful for the unwavering support from Thomas Jefferson University, as well as for my students who collaborated on generating the analytical drawings.

Who is the intended audience for the book?

This publication is intended for architects, exhibition designers, lighting professionals, conservation scientists and in particular anyone involved in museum planning and/or artwork display. It aims to give the reader a level of understanding for different daylighting systems, the visual effects of lighting and conservational considerations of artwork.

The first part of the book introduces the museum buildings, while the second part analyzes different daylighting solutions using simulation tools, and presents recommendations based on their comparison.

Where’s the best place for people to buy the book? Amazon, local retailers, etc.?

The publication is available in German and English language at bookstores and other online retailers. Birkhäuser is the specialist publisher for architecture, landscape architecture and design founded in Basel, Switzerland in 1879.