Architect Renzo Piano in front of his structure, Auditorium Parco della Musica, in Rome.
Lightness, transparency and transcendence, these are elements that architect Renzo Piano captures and transforms into monuments of the future. Take a look at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in Athens, the transparent Beirut History Museum, Paris’ futuristic Centre Pompidou, London’s totemThe Shard, and New York’s avant-garde Whitney Museum of American Art. And at 84 years old, Genova’s golden boy of architecture sees no sign of letting up.
A history of building
A recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, AIA Gold Medal, and Sonning Prize and recognised as one of the most influential architects of the 20th and 21st centuries, Piano humbly considers himself a builder. This understatement of his talents is no surprise considering his pragmatic approach to his awe-inspiring designs. The son of a house builder, his four uncles and grandfather had a construction enterprise under the name Fratelli Piano, paving the way for Piano’s career in architecture.
As a teenager, Piano would visit building sites and also tinker with building boats, eventually pursuing his studies at Milan’s illustrious Politecnico di Milano in the 1960’s, a time when the high tech architecture concept was just starting to emerge. The late 60’s and early 70’s was a time of potent innovation for the world of architectural design.
Neo-Avant Garde Architecture
Futurism has driven Piano from the very beginning. Drawing inspiration from neo avant-garde architects like Superstudio and Archigram, Piano and fellow architect Richard Rogers put their hats in the ring amongst 681 firms for the bid of the now famous Centre Pompidou. Winning the bid, Piano and Rogers, in collaboration with Italian architect Gianfranco Franchini, created this one-of-a-kind museum that remains one of the most prominent examples of high-tech architecture.
The Pompidou set the world on fire for its incorporation of space – both exterior and interior with a lively piazza-like open area and an inside-out structure. Exterior elements including the museum’s library, research centre, auditorium and cinemas, were pushed towards the space’s outer edge, while vibrantly coloured elements, which were designed to be easily replaced, were left in plain sight solidifying the building as one of Paris’ most notable landmarks. For Piano, the Pompidou represented “a joyful urban machine, a creature that might have come from a Jules Verne book.”
The world of Renzo Piano
In 1981, Piano established the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) which has developed numerous globally acclaimed projects both internationally and within Italy. In 1992, he returned to his hometown of Genova to reimagine the Porto Antico (old port area) which includesthe unique aquarium, and more recently the 2013 Grande Nave Blu, a space dedicated to the study and display of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Guided by practical solutions, Piano has continued over the last five decades to gift the world with rational yet monumental architectural designs, always with the goal of trying to help improve people’s lives. His pragmatic approach and architectural language is limitless, from entirely new buildings like Rome’s futuristic Parco della Musica auditorium, in which three giant bug-like halls of rusted lead hover over a multipurpose complex devoted to music, to the upcycle renovation of the historic Fiat Lingotto factory in Torino, which was once was the largest and most modern car manufacturing plant in Europe.
Over the course of his career, Piano incorporates a broad range of materials, including natural stone like travertine from his native Italy, red brick, rusted lead and glass. Harnessing glass into innovative facades could just be an architetonic reflection of the glassine waters in Piano’s hometown of Genova.
Architecture for millennia
In 2020, Genova inaugurated yet another pioneering Piano project – San Giorgio Bridge, which replaced the tragic Ponte Morandi which collapsed in August 2018. For this project, Piano stressed the importance of building a bridgethat is “practical, pragmatic, social, symbolic and of course poetic.” His aim is for it to last a millennia.