Architect Statement

Renzo Piano, Design Architect

Video produced by: SheridanWorks.

On January 21, 2010—after unveiling his designs for the Gardner Museum to the public—architect Renzo Piano took a moment to reflect on the Museum, the new wing, and on Isabella Gardner (whom he affectionately refers to as “that lady with the firm conviction that art can change the world”). In the following statement Mr. Piano describes in his own words how he approached the designs for the new wing and specifically the performance hall and special exhibition gallery.

I was a bit reluctant because, the idea of making a Venetian palace in Boston at the beginning of last century doesn’t sound very interesting. But then, when you arrive, and you go through the threshold into this space you realize that the beauty may be stronger than everything else, stronger than fate, stronger than kitsch, this is a really great piece of art. This is like capturing Venice, Venice is inside, it is actually the light of Venice, the atmosphere of Venice, it is actually that kind of magic suspended atmosphere. Venice is like getting out of time, getting in a new dimension that is timeless and this is what happened here.

The idea was to provide a better instrument, a better tool with which to perform music, exhibition, education, and conservation. Of course to do that—it was evident that we could not work inside, or beside the building. We had to find a distance, an actual distance. The distance creates a dialogue between the two buildings, that is maybe too short and too long, but a nice distance and the right scale. The building is fragmented in several pieces so that the building, by the way quite a small building is not just one building, but smaller volumes that don't aggress the palace.

The greenhouse is in some way a factory for this place, so we preserve that. There was also the idea to enter the new building like you enter a garden or a natural place, from where you see the palace. That is the constant object of your desire, there, and you never lose it.

The idea of the performance hall is like a wood harmonic chamber, in which people enjoy sound, but they also enjoy looking in the eyes of the man or the lady in front of them. It's a kind of participation where you enjoy music, together with other people enjoying the same music. This sense of belonging is great and beautiful. As soon as you get in that space, it's about music, but it's something magical as well.

Beside the music box we have another box, the special exhibition gallery. It's a space full of light, a large window faces North to the Palace so there is no direct sunlight. This is the place where we can take artworks from the palace, a piece of art at a time and we put it there. Like observing something in your hand—something a bit more carefully, and three or four or six months later that piece of art goes back to sleep in the palace.


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