Creative inspiration from the world of architecture

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Creative Creatures – Renzo Piano

The Shard, also referred to as the Shard of Glass, formerly London Bridge Tower, is a unique 95-story skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, in Southwark, London. It forms part of the Shard Quarter development. Standing 309.7 metres (1,016 ft) high, it is the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the tallest building in the European Union, the fifth-tallest building in Europe and the 96th-tallest building in the world.

But it’s not its height that it is famous for. The Shard is a stunningly beautiful building that also has a clear purpose. This tower sits at a crossroads of different transportation systems, including trains, tubes and buses, and is right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of London. Because it was sitting at the heart of a vital place of interchange, it provided Piano with the opportunity to increase vibrancy without increasing traffic. He wanted to grow the city from its very inside by filling spaces with facilities that were meaningful and functional.

But here’s the thing.

Although The Shard is a complicated and complex object of beauty, it began its life on a restaurant napkin. Apparently, Piano sketched the core idea for The Shard whilst having a lunch meeting with the property developer Irvine Sellar in March 2000. According to Sellar, “He saw the beauty of the river and the railways and the way their energy blended and began to sketch in green felt pen on a napkin what he saw as a giant sail or an iceberg.”

When being interviewed about his design process and philosophies, Piano was questioned as to why there were physical models and miniatures of entire buildings in his office, in a profession where 3-D modelling software was now the norm in architectural practice:

This was Piano’s response. “The model is a three-dimensional version of a sketch. I don’t have to tell the sketch where to start, where to end. It’s instinctive. Sketching, like the model, has the quality of imperfection. Neither has to be precise. It gives you freedom. It gives you the possibility to change.”

In other words, it is the very briefness of the sketch that forces us to synthesise only the very essence of the idea.

How do these principles translate into the world of business?

  1. However big an idea might eventually end up being, it will always start off as something small. A thought, a flash of inspiration, a moment of magic.
  2. The human brain’s default position is to head straight for the essence of that idea. It sees the end point without necessarily understanding how to get there.
  3. The idea is elusive and the time it has in the maelstrom of your mind might be fleeting, so the key is to capture it and capture it quickly.
  4. It doesn’t really matter how you capture it. Piano is obviously a visual person who finds it easy to draw and sketch. If you are more into words and phrases, then this is fine too. Explain your idea to somebody else, ask that person to record the precise words you used and then play them back to you. Distil this into a sentence using the best of your spoken words. Or if you are more into making and creating, then make or create something quickly and roughly
  5. The benefit of only being able to describe, illustrate or create the idea either on a small piece of paper, in a limited period of time or by using a small number of words is that you will force yourself to focus on the essence of the idea. The audience for your idea is likely to appreciate and applaud its brevity.

So, my top tip is to make sure that wherever you are, and at whatever time of day, always remember to pack a few napkins and a green felt pen in your bag. There is a Shard in all of us.


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