Who better to appraise the Renzo Piano building than architect Mark Cottle, who lives across the street from the High Museum at Colony Square and has an intense interest in the revitalization of Midtown? The assistant professor of architecture at Georgia Tech and architect of the Globe restaurant in Technology Square gives his architectural perspective on the significance of the Renzo Piano expansion.
What do you think of Piano's design?
I think it's very beautiful. I think it's perhaps the opposite of the Bilbao syndrome, where you end up with a building that everyone comes to for three years and then it's a white elephant.
What I think is remarkable about Piano's achievement urbanistically and formally is that he's able to take a big box at the Woodruff Center and this flashy jewel of the Meier, and it actually makes them look better than they did before.
Did the building suggest anything to you, prompt any metaphors?
All of his buildings look nautical to me. You can tell he's a product of the city that he grew up in [Genoa], which is kind of interesting because the Meier building also uses nautical imagery in its handrail and ramp.
The piazza, the light -- is there anything else of note that makes this a Piano space?
The way that he embraced the other buildings in a very nonjudgmental way, didn't judge them as if they were good or bad or worthy or unworthy, but that they are there and have to be dealt with is a very humanist attitude and very urbane attitude. The idea is that if people and buildings live in some sort of concert with each other, then a good physical city can help a good social city.
I think he has a rather noble agenda for the architect's role in society. He says at one point [that] architecture is one of those few arts that has a heavier responsibility because no one has a choice whether they have to look at the ugly buildings. No one has to read your bad poem or look at your bad painting, but they've got to live in your bad apartment building.
Do you think the building is too safe, too audacious, or just right?
Just right. I will say I think Piano is, perhaps, a conservative architect in the sense that he has old-fashioned values about building well and building for people. But I'm not sure that kind of old-fashioned is a bad thing. I'm a bit tired of the avant-garde getting other people to pay for them to get their kicks.
Piano's expansion on a scale from 1 to 10? What building would be your 10?
I think the MOMA [expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi] was a 10. I would say they're both 10s.
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