Renzo Piano is the latest and hottest museum architect with additions at the Chicago Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Academy of Sciences. With the pedestrian facades, it is hard to understand why. I have personally seen two of the three and have been inside his addition to LACMA.
You can’t really see the facade at LACMA as I have noted earlier and the entrance is reminiscent of the Carson IKEA but the galleries are elegant and beautiful backgrounds for the art. It appears that the interiors of the Art Institute are equally beautiful while the exterior seems more like a second rate government office.
Finally his tour de force in San Francisco is a very plain structure from the exterior with the only possible pizazz from the domed roof planted with wildflowers. It was not open the last time we were in San Francisco but the long lines and raves from attendees indicate that the interior with its rainforest and other habitats is captivating.
What this says to me is that architecture is a complex art. Some architects create wonderful facades but may fall short in some other areas. Others are driven by other forces and create a facade only to enclose the spaces they create. Clearly Piano’s clients are delighted with his skills and undeterred by understated exteriors. You can contrast this to Frank Gehry, creator of poetic facades of which I was quite critical until I visited the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles because the magic continues throughout the building.
I will certainly visit the Academy of Sciences sometime soon and I hope also to get to Chicago and revisit the Art Institute where I spent many Saturday afternoons enjoying the art during college.