• Born :
1937 (age 75)
Renzo Piano Building
Pritzker Architecture Prize,
Royal Gold Medal,
AIA Gold Medal,
UIA Gold Medal
• Renzo Piano was born in September 1937 in Genoa, the
ancient Italian port on the Mediterranean.
• He studied in Florence and in Milan, where he worked in
the office of Franco Albini and experienced the first student
rebellions of the 1960s.
• Born into a family of builders, frequent visits to his father
Carlo’s building sites gave him the opportunity to combine
practical and academic experience.
• He graduated from the Politecnico University in Milan in
• From 1965 to 1970, he combined his first experimental
work with his brother Ermanno together with numerous
trips to Great Britain and the United States
• In 1971, he set up the Piano & Rogers office in
London with Richard Rogers. Together they won
the competition for the Centre Pompidou and he
subsequently moved to Paris.
• From the early 1970s to the 1990s, he worked
with engineer Peter Rice, sharing the Atelier
Piano & Rice from 1977 to 1981.
• 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
• Like most works designed by members of the
"High-Tech" movement, Piano established
technology as a starting point for his designs.
Fortunately, he modified his attempts to generate
an architectural character based on technological
forms with a concern for user comfort and needs.
• In his more recent works, Piano has applied his
structural experiments to a range of social and
• In 1972 the de Menils engaged noted architect Louis Kahn, who had
recently completed the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, to design a
museum to house their collection.
• The building site was a 1920s residential enclave, entire blocks of
which they had purchased over the course of several years with the
aim of creating a storage facility and study center for their art.
• Kahn called for removing all of the residential structures and
transforming the entire site into a museum complex with gardens.
• Due to John de Menil’s death in 1973, followed by Kahn’s less than
a year later, the architect’s ambitious plan never came to fruition.
• Dominique de Menil continued to pursue the idea of permanently
housing the family collection in a public museum. Preliminary
schemes were developed with architect Howard Barnstone. Then in
1980 she met the Italian architect Renzo Piano who she
collaborated with excellently.
• The Menil Collection, located
in Houston, Texas, USA, refers either to a museum
that houses the private art collection of
founders John de Menil and Dominique de Menil.
• The Renzo Piano-designed museum opened to
the public in June 1987, has collection of
twentieth-century art, including over 15,000
paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photograp
hs, and rare books.
• Unlike the Kahn plan, the building envisioned by Piano—his first in the
United States—would not remake the existing neighborhood but rather
blend in and harmonize with it.
• The exterior—an understated facade of gray cypress siding, wide expanses
of glass, and white-painted steel—echoes the surrounding bungalows, all
of them painted the same shade of what has become known as “Menil
• The building’s dark-stained pine floors, low-slung profile, large lawn, and
surrounding portico (which mimics the deep porches typical of early
Houston homes) further recall the neighboring domestic structures.
• Telling Piano what she wanted in very simple but specific terms—a
museum that would look “small on the outside, but be as big as possible
inside”—de Menil got exactly what she wanted; although the Menil is
large, it sits gently in its residential setting, and its careful proportions and
placement engage easily with the nearby houses.
• De Menil insisted that most of her collection be
displayed in natural light so that visitors could
experience art as she did in her home, enlivened
by the subtle changes that occur at different
times of the day or year.
• It was also critical that the works be protected
from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays.
• Piano, with engineering consultants from Ove
Arup and Partners, made several trips to Houston
to measure light intensity and atmospheric
• While technology provided the necessary data, it was a trip to
Israel’s Kibbutz Ein Harod with de Menil that provided Piano with
his first inspiration.
• The kibbutz’s architect, Samuel Bickets, had suspended a screen
beneath the museum building’s skylights that filtered
sunlight, which could fill the gallery without directly striking works
• The second inspiration was Piano’s own sailboat, a model of which
the architect had recently built using ferro-cement.
• Enchanted by the flexibility of this particular material, Piano
designed a wave-shaped “leaf” for the Menil’s roof and
ceiling, which he used along with white steel trusses, both in the
gallery spaces and on the building’s exterior, to unify the structure.
• The leaves function as a method of controlling light levels and also
as a means of returning air flow.
• The museum campus has grown to include two
satellite galleries to the main building: Cy
Twombly Gallery and The Dan Flavin Installation at
Richmond Hall, which houses Dominique de Menil's
• Two other buildings founded by the de Menils, but now
operating as independent foundations, complete the
campus: The Byzantine Fresco Chapel and the Rothko
• The museum has a library that is open to qualified
researchers by appointment and a bookstore open
during museum hours.
• The neighborhood as a whole has a coordinated feel.
The Menil Foundation began buying homes in the area
in the 1960s and painting them the same shade of gray
• When the museum building was constructed, it too
was painted "Menil gray".
• Though subtle, the result is a neighborhood that feels
• Currently the surrounding bungalows are used as
additional office space for museum employees, or
rented to individuals or non-profit organizations.