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Renzo Piano's Next Project: Helping Italy Rebuild

The Pritzker Prize winner is stepping in to advise on how to rebuild.

[Photo: Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images]

The Italian architect Renzo Piano will be a driving force behind reconstruction and disaster prevention efforts in Italy after a devastating earthquake killed at least 290 people last week, according to the Guardian.

"We have to act quickly, with the utmost urgency," Piano told the Guardian. "Anti-seismic requirements must be inserted in the laws of the country to make our homes safe, just as it’s compulsory for a car to have brakes that work."

Piano met with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi over the weekend to discuss ways to quickly build housing for the up to 3,000 people who were displaced by the earthquake and to resurrect three flattened medieval towns, where most of the buildings—including a school that was retrofitted for earthquakes in 2012—could not withstand the shaking.

[Photo: Cirone-Musi via Flickr user Festival della Scienza]

Meanwhile, Italian authorities plan to investigate whether the mafia was involved in shoddy construction, or if the devastation was due to negligence of existing building codes. The anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti has warned against allowing the mafia to take control of reconstruction, which he told the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica has historically been a "delicious morsel" for criminal groups. Piano has acknowledged corruption's influence on Italian laws but noted that the country is trying to improve.

Preserving Italy's historic buildings is a costly endeavor. The National Engineers' Association estimates that the cost to just reinforce the country's public buildings would exceed 40 billion euros. Some wonder if it's worth rebuilding at all, given the cost and the region's depopulation, and view the earthquake as a chance to reimagine what the central Italian region might look like.

The Italian government plans to build lightweight wooden housing for the displaced within the next six months, and then begin construction on the towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, and Arquata del Tronto. Piano, who has been an honorary lifetime senator since 2013, has also called for more extensive protection of Italy's cultural treasures, public buildings, and private homes, according to The Guardian. As an ambassador for UNESCO since 1995, Piano has also coordinated with the organization on disaster prevention.

Piano isn't the first architect to step in to advise governments after catastrophes. For example, the Japanese architect and Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban is known for his inexpensive structures designed for refugees and survivors of natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, many architects argued for the importance of more resilient buildings. As climate change becomes a bigger trigger of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, more and more architects will follow their lead in designing for potential disasters.

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