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Joel Solkoff Column: Renzo Piano New York

Column by Joel Solkoff, PA, USA

Dec 4, 2013

Joel Solkoff Column in December 2013

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On disability issues relevant to architects


Renzo Piano Owns New York

Photo of Renzo Piano working on his first New York City commission:
Renzo Piano and Joseph Mizzi - article by Joel Solkoff USA
photo reproduced by permission of Joseph Mizzi, President Sciame Construction. Thank you, Joseph

When Renzo Piano’s fourth architectural project in New York City is completed, he will have surrounded the Island of Manhattan dominating neighborhoods on the North, South, West and East sides.

The project on the north is Columbia University’s Manhattanville expansion. For an alumnus of Columbia College Class of 1969, the Piano project is literally a mind blower. Columbia’s Morningside Campus is located at 116th Street and Broadway.

This is a photograph by Eileen Barroso, published by permission of Columbia, of the University’s iconic Low Memorial Library, constructed by the Beaux Art Firm of McKim Meade and White, a firm noted for its early 20th century grandiose architecture:

Columbia University Low Memorial Library - Joel Solkoff Column
photo of Columbia University Low Memorial Library

This is how Columbia describes Low Memorial Library:

“Celebrated as an example of purely classical architecture, Low Memorial Library was completed in 1897 and served as the main library until 1934.

“Today this landmark building functions as the administrative center of the University and houses the offices of the President and the Provost.

“One of the most impressive features of Low is its rotunda topped by the largest all-granite dome in the country.

“The rotunda, originally the Library’s main reading room, is now used for exhibitions and major University events.”

This is what 131 Street looked like last year.

131 Street Manhattan - Renzo Piano Owns New York article
photo provided by Columbia University


This is how the site looked last month:

Manhattanville site New York - Renzo Piano Owns New York article
photo provided by Columbia University

Stay tuned to this COLUMN for a description of how Piano envisions the site to look, what the project is intended to do and how Piano formulated his Creative Plan.


Piano’s expansion beyond 125th street literally “blows my mind.”

“Blows my mind” was a widely used slang expression in the 1960s to represented a sudden and very pleasing burst of mental wisdom received in an unexpected way.

When I attended Columbia College, walking to this spot in daylight was an automatic invitation to be mugged or raped.


Renzo Piano Owns New York.


The expression: Who owns New York? has a special significance.

Here is a link to a You Tube video of the Columbia University chorus singing the classic Columbia football fight song entitled:

Who owns New York? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP6yBRxlfcY

Oh, who owns New York?
Oh, who owns New York?
Oh, who owns New York the people say.
Why, we own New York!
Why, we own New York!

Pace does not give me time to describe just how powerful is Columbia University.

Consider. President of the United States Barack Obama is a graduate of Columbia College, Class of 1983.

President of the United States Barack Obama
photo provided by Wikipedia Commons

President Obama told Columbia College Today, an excellent alumni publication, that Obama “changed course junior year when he transferred to Columbia. “I realized I wanted to be in a more vibrant, urban environment.”


The College has a rigorous and excellent Core Curriculum requiring its students among other things to read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War.

My father Isadore Solkoff, Class of 24, read Thucydides. I read Thucydides. Obama read Thucydides.

I suggest the President re-read it.

This photograph shows later to become President of Columbia, General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of all Allied operations against Hitler. This is Eisenhower, just before the invasion as he encourages his troops (his men) one by one. Eisenhower knows that he is speaking the last significant words of comfort these men while hear. He KNOWS an astonishing larger number of men he is talking to now will die in a few hours:
General Dwight Eisenhower Joel Solkoff Column
photo provided by Wikipedia Commons

When Dwight Eisenhower returned to the United States after winning World War II, he became President of Columbia University. When Eisenhower was elected President of the United States, he resigned from his position as President of Columbia.


Future Joel Solkoff Column Topics – Renzo Piano New York

In future columns, I will describe Renzo Piano’s three other projects in New York:

  1. The Downtown Whitney Museum located south and west on Manhattan Island in a neighborhood where 100 years ago cattle and other animals were slaughtered, packaged, and sold—the Meatpacking District.

Construction of the Whitney Museum of American Art building, viewed from the Hudson River:
Whitney Downtown Museum Joel Solkoff Column
photograph by Timothy Schenck, Sep 2013 ; Photo provided by The Whitney Museum of American Art

  1. The New York Times Building located off Times Square. In the 1970s, I visited my editor at the old New York Times building and stayed late to write and rewrite and rewrite an article on food stamps for the Sunday New York Times Weekly News Review section.

The area around the building was surrounded by female and male prostitutes openly and brazenly offering a wide selection of sexual services to pedestrians. Not only are the prostitutes gone from Times Square, but the general sense of decadence and decay is gone. Piano’s New York Times skyscraper represents the culmination of the restoration of the Times Square neighborhood.

  1. The Morgan Museum and Library located on the East Side, 36th Street and Madison Avenue. When I worked in that neighborhood, dominated by Grand Central Station, the decay and dirt were omnipresent. Not only has Grand Central been restored to its original glory, but the Piano Morgan represents the culmination of the restoration of the Murray Hill neighborhood.

Morgan Library and Museum.
photo courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum

This is a song entitled East Side West Side All Around the Town.



What I want my readers to understand is that Renzo Piano’s combined Manhattan projects have such a significant impact on New York City. Renzo Piano is almost literally causing the face of New York City to encompass his grand vision. Renzo Piano’s grand visions have made him New York City’s MASTER BUILDER.


How will Renzo Piano’s plans for the Columbia expansion help in the Architectural Renascence taking place in Manhattan?

For the time being I urge you: Think Manhattan.


New York City is comprised of Five Boroughs. They are Staten Island, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Manhattan is all you need to know about right now.

Each of the other boroughs has interesting characteristics, but I am concentrating here on Manhattan.

Manhattan is an island.

Renzo Piano has now completed four major projects that have helped to significantly improve the neighborhoods in which they are located.

The Sidewalks of New York is a significant song in getting a better understanding of New York City.

I will leave you with a link to this song Renzo Piano’s power making him essentially The King of New York City architecture when New York City is now employing some of the best architects in the world.

When I return, I will provide more information on the Piano Columbia expansion.



Goodbye and good luck.

Joel Solkoff. Joel is currently working on making videos detailing the process of creating three dimensional models. This is technology currently being used in architecture, engineering, and construction offices throughout Manhattan.

Morgan Library and Museum
photo © Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Joel Solkoff Column – Renzo Piano Owns New York Access Design article written by Joel Solkoff, PA, USA


Joel Solkoff – regular guest editor at e-architect

J.P. Morgan Library and Museum Building, New York City, USA
Morgan Library and Museum
photo by Michel Denancé, provided by permission of the Morgan Library and Museum
J.P. Morgan Library Museum

J.P. Morgan Library and Museum Access

J.P. Morgan Library and Museum Building : architecture article by Joel Solkoff. 13 Jul 2013
Why did it take New York City so long to recognize that Renzo Piano is a good architect?

After decades of work throughout the world, after winning the highly respected Pritzker Award in 1998, it was not until five years later that Piano began work as a creative architect on a project in New York City. What is wrong with New York?

Columbia University Campus architects:

Renzo Piano

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

Part 1 of 3: Giorgio Bianchi interview

Part 2 of 3: Giorgio Bianchi

Morgan Library and Museum
photos by permission of Robert Silman Structural Engineering, New York, New York

American Architectural Designs

American Architecture Designs – selection below:

American Architecture

Museum Buildings

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

American Architects

American Buildings

American Building Developments

Columbia University Medical Center

Comments / photos for the Renzo Piano Owns New York City – Joel Solkoff Column page welcome