Renzo Piano, And How To Build The Perfect Sandcastle Famed architect Renzo Piano is best known for his massive skyscrapers and innovative designs. But the sandcastle enthusiast also has thoughts on how to plan a building that's a bit more ephemeral.
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Blueprints Before High Tide: An Architect Explains The Perfect Sandcastle

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Blueprints Before High Tide: An Architect Explains The Perfect Sandcastle

Blueprints Before High Tide: An Architect Explains The Perfect Sandcastle

Blueprints Before High Tide: An Architect Explains The Perfect Sandcastle

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/428088284/428355279" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

This gargantuan beauty was built during the 1999 Delaware State News Sandcastle Contest. The castle was lost all too soon in a tragic high-tide accident. Grant L. Gursky/Associated Press hide caption

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Grant L. Gursky/Associated Press

This gargantuan beauty was built during the 1999 Delaware State News Sandcastle Contest. The castle was lost all too soon in a tragic high-tide accident.

Grant L. Gursky/Associated Press

Architect Renzo Piano has designed the 87-floor Shard skyscraper in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the new home for the Whitney Museum in New York. The Pritzker Prize winner even has a number of ideas for the future of Europe's cities.

But there have been plenty of Piano-planned structures you probably don't know about. And with good reason: They've all washed away.

Piano confessed his lifelong love of sandcastles in The Guardian recently, offering a few choice words of wisdom to follow in constructing your own. In a conversation with NPR's Scott Simon, he explains what drew him to the ephemeral art, what it can teach architects and, of course, a few things to keep in mind while getting started — this one more than most:

"You don't make a sandcastle to fight against anybody," he says. "You just flirt with the waves. That is the reason why you make a sandcastle."

Renzo Piano won the 1998 Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious international award for work in architecture. Presumably, his sandcastles were not considered in the decision. Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Renzo Piano won the 1998 Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious international award for work in architecture. Presumably, his sandcastles were not considered in the decision.

Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Interview Highlights

On how to build the best sandcastle

First you have to stand on the shoreline. You have to stand on the sand. And you have to watch carefully while the waves come. ...

It's fundamentally about then digging a little ditch, around the little mountain with your lines. Then you open a little door to the waves. And this is where the fun starts, because then the waves come in the ditch.

On the attraction of making them

This is something you do up to when you are a 12-year-old. Then you start again when you are 60. It's true, I did my last one probably one week ago, in Sardinia somewhere, in a little beach — beautiful. And it's something totally useless, of course. You have to understand that; otherwise, it's really frustrating. It's quite nice because it's about capturing a moment when the water comes. And, of course, it's also about the old story of the relationship between manmade and nature. I love nature immensely, but at the end of the day, the architect's job is to compete with nature. It's actually to make buildings. And if you are not clever, things don't stay up.

On what building sandcastles can teach us about designing skyscrapers

For an architect to make something so simple, so easy, so playful, like a sandcastle, it's still about learning. It's about physical law, it's about intuition, it's about forces of nature — it's about understanding, at the end of the day. ...

But making something so useless like a sandcastle teaches you a lot about the responsibility of making something that must remain for centuries. I don't want to become too romantic, but in some ways, that's the whole point. You know, making something that will last half an hour is a kind of interesting opposite. It's a pleasure. It's taking up time, enjoying life.