The Eye

A World-Famous Architect’s Tips for Building the Perfect Sandcastle


Architect Renzo Piano would not approve of the inland location of these twin sandcastles. “There’s no point making the castle too far away from the sea,” he says.


Photo by James West/Flickr

Renzo Piano is known for designing sometimes controversial buildings that nevertheless have stood the test of time. But the Pritzker Prize–winning architect behind Paris’ Centre Pompidou, London’s Shard, and the new Whitney Museum building in New York City recently offered design tips on that most ephemeral of architectural forms: the sandcastle.

The 77-year-old Italian architect told the Guardian that his career started while building his first sandcastle on the shores of Genoa. “Making things has always been a pleasure for me – happy hands, happy mind – and making sandcastles was my training in fantasy,” he said. “There is no age limit – you can enjoy making a sandcastle however old you are, although it helps to think like a child.”

“You can enjoy making a sandcastle however old you are,” Piano says, “although it helps to think like a child.”

Photo by Henry Burrows/Flickr

After establishing that “building a sandcastle is a totally useless operation,” as it’s designed to disappear, Piano offers a simple four-point plan that includes both philosophical and practical advice.

“A sandcastle’s relationship to water is more important than its appearance,” he says, encouraging sandcastle architects to study the waves before instinctively choosing a location “where the waves have made the sand wet” that is neither “too low on the shoreline” that “the sea will immediately destroy it,” nor too high that “you have no waves to flirt with.”

Italian architect Renzo Piano at his workshop in Paris in May.  

Photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Use your hands to dig a ditch, he instructs, before offering specs to create his ideal dimensions for the structure, which must include an entrance to let in the inevitable rush of the sea.

“The magic moment is when the waves come and the ditch becomes a moat,” he says, adding that a well-positioned sandcastle will allow for the ebb and flow of water for up to 15 minutes.

Head over to the Guardian for details of Piano’s sandcastle-building advice before you hit the beach this summer.