Renzo Piano was born into a family of builders in Genoa, Italy in 1937 The
family had a construction business that included his father, grandfather and
his uncles. Piano grew in a strong environment of construction. As a child
he used to visit his father’s construction sites and like any other child, he
was fascinated to see the people at work creating stimulating structures.
Usually, construction does not thrill adults so much, unless they are
involved, but for the children, it’s an adventure and a lot of fun. The same
thing happened with Piano; he looked at the details and the execution due
to an instinctive curiosity. He also wondered about the designers who
designed those buildings.
As he grew, his curiosity about the designers amplified and he decided to
become an architect. He was seventeen when he approached his beloved
father with the idea of going to an architecture school. "Why do you want
to be just an architect? You can be a builder," was his father's response.
“You can make things, why would you just design things?”. Renzo Piano
was studying at Milan Polytechnic Architecture School. During his studies,
Renzo Piano was working under the design guidance of Franco Albini. In
1964, he received his diploma and subsequently worked with his father, a
building contractor, in Genoa. It was on building sites that the young
architect acquired the rudiments of his experimental and craftsman like
Between the years 1965 and 1970, Piano worked with Louis Kahn in
Philadelphia and with Z.S. Makowsky in London studying stressed-skin
space grids and three-dimensional structures in tension.
Renzo Piano's first important commission was in 1969 to design the Italian
Industry Pavilion at Expo'70 in Osaka. The Expo project attracted much
favorable attention, including that of another young English architect
named Richard Rogers. The two architects found that they had a great deal
in common and an engineering firm suggested they worked together and
enter the international competition for the Georges Pompidou Centre in
Paris; they did and won.
The result was a hundred thousand square meters in the heart of Paris,
devoted to the figurative arts, music, industrial design and literature. In the
two decades since it opened, over a hundred and fifty million people have
visited it averaging more than twenty five thousand people per day - an
overwhelming success - both with the people of Paris and international
media. Both Rogers and Renzo Piano became recognizable names
throughout the world.
Characteristics of this six-storey complex is visible technology in the form of
construction grids, utility elements in brightcolours and transparent
pipes.This building is often described as, “high tech", but Renzo Piano
prefers other modifiers. Renzo Piano says “The center was intended to be a
joyful urban machine, a creature that might have come from a Jules Verne
book, or an unlikely looking ship in dry dock. It is a double provocation, a
challenge to academicism, but also a parody of the technological imagery of
our time. To see it as high-tech is misunderstanding."
One of the casualties of this project, which required years of living in Paris,
however, was Renzo Piano's marriage. In 1989, Renzo Piano met Emilia
Rossato when she came to work for his Renzo Piano Building workshop.
They got married in 1992 by Jacques Chirac and they live in Paris and divide
their time between offices in Paris and Genoa with frequent trips to his
many projects around the world.The Rano-Rogers collaboration remained 6
years; in 1977 Rogers moved his office from Paris to London, where Renzo
Piano designed number of interesting buildings.
In 1995, Renzo Piano was called upon to renovate the Centre Georges
Pompidou. He was asked to expand the library and exhibition place and to
reorganize public spaces. The renovation was reopened on the eve of new
millennium, December 31,1999.
Renzo Piano's principal work includes more than 40 world-famous projects,
as museums, galleries, churches, music parks, institutes and national
centers, shopping centers, bridges, reconstructions of squares, airports and
many more.One of his most famous museum is De Menil Collection in
Houston, Texas. It was in 1982, that art collector Dominique de Menil
contacted Renzo Piano to design a museum for her collection, which
embodied more than ten thousand works of primitive and modern art. The
museum was intended also as a center for music, literature, theatre and
cultural educational activities. It is located in a small park surrounded by
low residential housing, and it’s characteristic is unique because of its
simplicity, flexibility, open spaces and illumination with natural light. Renzo
Piano designed a special kind of roof, almost like leaves,a thin ferrocement
which lets the light inside the exhibition rooms and to which additional
lights could be easily attached.
Renzo Piano compares this museum with Centre Pompidou and says:
"Paradoxically, the Menil Collection with its great serenity, its calm and its
understatement is far more modern than Centre Pompidou. The
technological appearance of Pompidou Centre is parody. The technology
used for the Menil Collection is even more advanced, but it is not. On the
other side of the world in Noum, New Caledonia, Rano was doing The
Tjibaou Cultural Centre.Rano explained that the project addresses the
difficulties of finding a way to express traditions of the Pacific in modern
language. His concept is genuine village composed on ten structures of
different sizes and functions. The largest is as tall as nine storey building.
The ten structures of the center are organized into three villages: One is
devoted to exhibition, another is for administrative staff, historians and
other offices; the third is for creative activities such as oance, painting,
sculpture and music. The constructions are curved structures resembling
huts, built out of joists and ribs and Renzo Piano adds “They are an
expression of the harmonious relationship with the environment, that is
typical for the local culture."
Achievements & Awards:
In 1981, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) was established, and it
currently has a staff of 150 and offices in Paris, Genoa and New York.
RPBW has designed buildings all around the world: the Menil Collection in
Houston, the terminal for Kansai International Airport in Osaka, the
FondationBeyeler Museum in Basel, the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre
in New Caledonia, PotsdamerPlatz in Berlin, the redevelopment of the
Genoa harbour, the Auditorium “Parco dellaMusica” in Rome, the Nasher
Sculpture Center in Dallas, the extensions of the High Museum of Art in
Atlanta and the Morgan Library in New York, the MaisonHermès in Tokyo,
the New York Times headquarters, the California Academy of Sciences in
San Francisco, the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, the
rehabilitation of the Ronchamp site, the expansion of the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in
Recognition of his achievements has included awards such as the RIBA
Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1989, the PreamiumImperiale in
Tokyo in 1995, the Pritzker Architecture Prize in1998, and the AIA Gold
Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 2008.
Some of his most important current projects include the redevelopment
and enlargement of the Fogg Museum in Cambridge (Massachusetts), the
Whitney Museum of American Art and the Campus of Columbia University
in New York, an expansion of the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, the
London Bridge Tower in London, the Tower San Paolo in Turin, the Stavros
Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens and the Botin Art Centre in
Ten years after the completion of Georges Pompidou Centre, in 1987
another remarkable project came to him – the Kansai Air Port at Osaka Bay.
A building spread across a little less than 1.5 kilometers. It was to be
constructed on a man-made island and because this artificial island was
continuously sinking the structure had to be flexible enough to sustain
irregular settlements. This project required a great deal of technical
expertise without compromising on the aesthetics and both were perfectly
achieved by Piano’s committed team.
Due to the spectacular architecture and engineering of this world-
renowned terminal, Kansai International Airport is now considered to be
one of the most brilliantly designed terminals ever erected. It was
completed in 1994 and was inaugurated by the Prince of Japan.
Just before the completion of Kansai Airport, in 1993, Peter Rice died. It
was a great setback for Piano as he and Peter had designed many beautiful
structures together for sixteen years. However Piano then founded the
Renzo Piano Building Workshop, with offices in Paris and Genoa. Today,
some 100 people work with him in close collaboration with some
associated architects, linked to him by years of experience.
His father's romance for construction and his childhood memories at the
construction sites have never been forgotten. Perhaps that is the reason for
the name Renzo Piano Building Workshop, rather than Piano Architects &
Associates. Piano not only designs but makes things and tests them.