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The Trace of the Hand: Renzo Piano - Master Craftsman

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Cathal Quinn
Plymouth University Plymouth UK
Craft has been synonymous with building since time began. Man has applied his particular skills to the task of constructing appropriate structures to accommodate his needs. Central to this practice of craftsmanship in building, is the desire to celebrate the ordinary meeting of two materials to serve a common purpose. The quality of workmanship is paramount, for it communicates the motivating spirit behind the work.

The past two centuries have seen rapid technological advances that have trasnformed our world irrevocably. One consequence of the progress that has been made is the very real alienation of the individual in the face of the all-powerful and all-pervading machine. This is manifest in many of today's buildings which are, essentially, an assembly of anonymous components with little or no relationship to one another.

Renzo Piano attempts to redress this trend. Through the practice of his craft, he wilfully designs each building component which he calls "the piece". He seeks to re-establish an awareness of identity in the role of the individual in supporting the whole. Working at an international level, Piano is, nevertheless, sensitive to the concept of place, and his buildings may be seen as a fusion of local traditions and global technologies.

Research and experimentation are fundamental to Piano's approach to architecture. Ideas are explored through scale models, computer simulations and full-size mock-ups of building details. Collaboration with experts in other disciplines complements the design process and influences the evolution of a more complete and responsive design solution.

In the context of the late twentieth century, the design philosophy of Renzo Piano, architect craftsman, reminds us of the imperative to re-engage with every aspect of the building process. Following his lead, architects may re-assume their traditional role as designers and makers of a humane architecture.

Cathal Quinn


In the final year of his BA(Hons) Architecture, at Plymouth, Cathal Quinn wrote his dissertation about the work of Alvar Aalto. For his Diploma dissertation, he sought a new subject area which would allow him to develop further the ideas he had explored through his study of Aalto's work. During the early part of the year, he investigated questions concerning human error in architecture, which led to an enquiry into craftsmanship. Renzo Piano was selected as the focus of a study of craftsmanship within a modern architectural context.

This dissertation is being nominated because it displays a clarity of intention. The author retains a critical position throughout, whilst developing a well articulated argument. It is also clearly structured and well presented, and displays accomplished linguistic skills.

1999
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