“The serenity of his best works can almost make you believe that we live in
a civilized world”
New York Times, 2009
Born in Genoa in 1937, Renzo Piano is among the most well known, prolific, and active architects at an international level in the world. He was the winner of the Prizker prize, which is “the Nobel” in the world of architecture. The president of the United States at that time, Bill Clinton, presented the award to him at the White House in 1998.
In 2006 Piano became the first Italian to be included in Time 100, the list of the most influential people in the world, as well as among the top ten most important in the category of Art and Entertainment. And in 2013 the former President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano named Piano Senator for life.
Both an architect and an engineer, Piano was born into a family of builders. Thanks to his father, a property developer, he had the opportunity to understand the life of the construction site and the profession, as well as to establish his first relationships with clients. From the beginning, his signature style is marked by a constant search for and experimentation with materials and structural forms, and by a total passion for technology and the construction itself.
This is the reason that Brunelleschi is his favorite architect from history. The artist of the Renaissance studied the mechanism of the clock in order to be able to apply a system of large counterweights to raise the beams for the dome of the Florence cathedral.
At the beginning of his career, Piano was known for his collaboration with other architects, like the iconic Louis Kahn in Philadelphia. He then established an architecture studio with Richard Rogers. To great surprise, given their young ages, Piano and Rogers won the 1971 international competition to design the Georges Pompidou Center (known also as Beauborg) in Paris beating the other 681 contestants from 49 countries with a bold project that was revolutionary for its time. The building has been described as a human body that has been stripped of its skin and showcases the tubes and channels of which it is made.
Piano called it “a joyous urban machine” and today it is one of the most visited monuments in Paris. Reflecting on its construction, Piano said: “We had to make a structure of pieces of cast metal. The entire French steel industry went up in arms: It point-blank refused to make the material, saying that the structure would not hold up. But we were sure of our facts and gave the work to the German company Krupp. So the principal structure of the Center was made in Germany, and the beams had to be delivered during the night, almost in secret. This was a case in which the technology protected the art. Our understanding of the structure liberated our capacity for expression.”
Here are Renzi’s other significant works in order of design and construction.
1983 – 2002 Lingotto di Torino. Built in 1920 as a production plant for Fiat cars, it was the first and largest factories of mass production in Europe. Renzi’s conversion of the factory provided for a multi-faceted center for technology, trade fairs, a university, a park, exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a concert hall. The auditorium, which was excavated to about 10 meters deep, has a system of automatic moving parts, which can vary the capacity.
1987 – 1990 The Bari Stadium. Built for the World Cup (of soccer) in 1990, the stadium is nicknamed the spaceship. It has 60,000 seats and has an innovative lighting system. The entire ellipse of the stadium is made up of 24 petals, each assembled out of 310 crescent-shaped elements, which were prefabricated out of concrete on site.
1988 – 2001 The Port of Genoa. The reclamation of the Old Port was begun for the Columbus Celebration (Expo ’92), which marked the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. Renzi renovated two areas and added the Acquarium and the Bigo, the panoramic elevator, which have become two major tourist attractions of the city. The port underwent another redevelopment in 2001, again at the hands of Renzi, for the meeting of the G8.
1989 – 1991 Renzi Piano Workshop. Renzi created his own studio in Genova Voltri, on a steep buttress overlooking the sea. The brilliance of the complex is its invisibility from land and sea, based on skillful cuts into the hillside. Inside, on the other hand, the windows allow for fantastic views and excellent light.
1991 – 1997 Fondazione Beyeler. The Beyeler Center in Basel, Switzerland, is a small, but clever design to create an exhibition space for contemporary art. Beyeler and Piano formed a deep relationship. At the end of the project, the architect felt like an art collector, and the art collector felt like an architect. The building shows great attention to detail, from the garden to the choice of windows and doors.
1991 – 1998 The Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia. On the other side of the world, Piano faced the difficulty of expressing the traditions of the Pacific in modern architectural language. He created 10 structures of different sizes and functions, which are organized in 3 villages: one is devoted to exhibitions; another is for administrative staff, historians, and other offices; and the third is for creative activities such as dance, painting, sculpture, and music. The constructions are an expression of the harmonic relationship with the environment, which is typical of the local culture. The curved structures resemble sails or huts, built out of wooden joists and ribs. The interiors are equipped with all the latest technology of the time.
1992 – 2000 Posdamer Platz in Berlin. Piano’s respect for older cities enabled him to win the international competition to develop the master plan for the Potsdamer Platz, the center of social and cultural life in Berlin before the second world war.
1994 – 2002 The Auditorium Park of Music in Rome. This complex covers an area of 55,000 square meters. The main structures are 3 concert halls, of different sizes: the largest on the left is for orchestras; the smallest on the right are for solo and chamber performances. Jacopo played the piano there in 2011. It is the most visited music facility in Europe. The three halls hover over an open amphitheatre at the center, which can hold up to 3,000 spectators. The form of the buildings resembles a beetle.
2000 – 2012 The Shard of London. At 310 meters high and with 87 floords, the Shard is the second tallest skyscraper in Europe. Built between the city and the Tower of London, it was one of the first buildings NOT to include parking areas with the express intention of making it accessible only through the use of public transportation. It is shaped as an irregular pyramid and is entirely covered in glass.
A Sample of Other Works and Projects:
- Morgan Library, New York City
- NEMO Science Museum, Amsterdam
- Art Institute of Chicago expansion
- A building of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
- New York Times Building
- Academy of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles
- LACMA (2 buildings)
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City