In 2000, six world-renowned architects competed for the commission to build the new California Academy of Sciences building, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Five of the six arrived for the interview with the academy’s board of trustees bearing a large scale model to illustrate their proposals. The sixth, Renzo Piano, showed up with just a sketchpad. The 70-year-old Piano, who is tall, bearded, and the distillation of charm, had walked around Golden Gate Park for a while and then had climbed onto the roof of one of the old, condemned buildings, which had been damaged in the 1989 earthquake. “It was a very bad roof, in pieces,” Piano says, “but I could see views of the surrounding hills, and I was in among the treetops of the park.” When the architect came down, he had a simple drawing: several curved green lines, looking like hills, above a straight line, representing the ground. It didn’t really look like a building at all—more like a park without a building.
Piano got the job.
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