Richard Renner on Why Architects Should Never Stop Growing
When Richard Renner walks into the Maine Home+Design office, he comments, “I designed the adaptive reuse of this building.” After working as an architect in the Portland community for the past thirty years, much of his memories are rooted in the city’s architectural landscape. Renner reflects on a lifetime of responsible and creative design.
Q. How would you define the intent of your designs?
A. Aldo van Eyck, a Dutch architect, has a theory that good architecture is like a homecoming. Buildings should be support frameworks for people and for their activities. For example, we’re doing a planning study for converting a historic central boiler into an art center that supports recovery from addiction and reentry from prison. It’s critical to me that this building is saying, “Welcome.”
Q. For most of your career you’ve been interested in environmentally responsible design. How does the mandate to design responsibly affect creativity?
A. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that we were one of the pioneers in Maine in green building. There are designers who think green design compromises their creativity. However, just as we have to design buildings that don’t fall down—and generally architects don’t say that structure gets in the way of their creativity—I feel that the responsibility to be environmentally sympathetic is just another parameter around which to design. Those constraints can be powerfully creative and can even add to the quality of the architecture.
Q. How does it feel to visit buildings you’ve designed in the past?
A. It’s often mixed. Sometimes I go back, and I see things I wish I had done differently. I think that also means, or I hope it means, that my process, my sources of inspiration, and my abilities have become better and richer. In this field you can always get better.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. There’s a wonderful interview in the New York Times of a jazz pianist in his 80s, and he was playing during the interview. He just kept doing this same riff over and over, and he said something like, “I know there’s another level in here, but I just can’t quite get there.” That guy is in his 80s, and he’s still growing as a performer and as an artist. What could be better than that?