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Inspiring Architect: Renzo Piano


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Renzo Piano, born in Genoa in 1937, is easily one of the most renowned architects of the contemporary era. Piano grew up in a family of builders. His father was a house builder, and his grandfather and four uncles were also in the construction industry. Maybe that was why his love for architecture developed at a young age and was nurtured throughout as he obtained his secondary school diploma in classical studies and then earned a degree in Architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1964.

Following his university studies, he gained experience in Philadelphia and London, and the London experience in particular became a determining factor in his professional development. A major milestone during that phase was  being assigned the role of president of the project commission for the Centre Georges Pompidou by Jean Prouvé.

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Renzo Piano began his career winning the competition for the design of the Centre Georges Pompidou along with Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini. The collaboration between Piano and Rogers lasted from 1971 to 1977. Subsequently, Piano worked with many other illustrious architects and engineers (Rice, Fitzgerald, Makowsky).

His work encompasses many different sectors: from trade fair pavilions to historical building restoration, and from studies on materials and processes to boat (one of his passions is sailing) and furniture design.

Now aged 82, Piano is showing no sign of stopping. The plethora of projects he currently has on the drawing board include a motion picture museum in Los Angeles and a residential tower in New York. He is also designing a replacement for Genoa’s collapsed Morandi Bridge, a project he volunteered to take on. His versatility could, in the end, be what drives the aspirations of high-tech into the future.


Unanimously recognized as unique, the Piano’s architecture cannot be traced back to any “school”, current or style. His design idea “does not rest on a theory, but rather on a way of relating to the project”, with a “constant interaction between construction aspects (technological, scientific, production-related) and poetic content.” (Fiocchi)

Nonetheless, four themes can be seen in his professional development: “his interest in the piece, the organism, the building system; design for industry; the problem of housing and cities; the large-scale project.” (Treccani)

Works by Renzo Piano are distinguished by a unique interplay of functional, technical and aesthetic aspects. An architect with no recognisable trademark style, Renzo Piano has nevertheless designed some of the most famous buildings in the world: among them the Pompidou Centre, the headquarters of the New York Times, the Shard Tower in London, the Whitney Museum in New York and the recently completed Palace of Justice in Paris. Renowned as a master of construction technology, the Pritzker Prize winner uses a wide variety of materials and construction methods to create buildings whose designs are heavily inspired by location and function.

Piano is certainly an architect unafraid to take risks, and sometimes they backfire. The Astrup Fearnley Museet in 2012 in Oslo shows what happens when the engineering solutions aren’t fully resolved. Yet it seems unlikely that any problem could dampen his enthusiasm for design.

Iconic projects

Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou in Paris—designed in the 1970s by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini—garnered much attention for its high-tech style. Its color-coded, tubular façade (green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are climate control, electrical wires are yellow), with an elevator that climbs in diagonals up the front, looks straight out of Super Mario Land.

The NY Times Building

The steel-framed skyscraper in midtown Manhattan west that houses the New York Times was completed in 2007, the seventh-tallest building in the U.S.

The hall access visually and physically connect the streets 40 and 41, with income from both sides. The space is organized by the box elevators are distinguished by their orange and a vacuum in the open. This vacuum is a large garden with trees, allowing the entry of natural light. The transparency of the facade, these elements are at the street from the three sides of the building.

In design, you can see the real concern for the pedestrian. In the three sides mentioned above, which are proposed at the shelters as well as pedestrian protection from rain and works as a support for lighting.

The Zentrum Paul Klee

The Zentrum Paul Klee—which houses more than 4,000 works by the German-Swiss artist—features an undulating silhouette of steel beams that almost blends into the rolling hills surrounding it outside Bern, Switzerland.

California Academy of Science

Record-setting “green” building designed by Renzo Piano houses an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research facility—all under one living roof

One of the world’s most innovative museum building programs—a record-setting, sustainable new home for the California Academy of Sciences—has reached completion in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Château La Coste Art Gallery


Renzo Piano’s firm used chunky concrete walls to frame the 285-square-meter building, which is submerged six meters into a valley so that its roof is level with the landscape.

The building is located in the grounds of the Château La Coste winery, which are also home to an arts centre and chapel designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and installations by artists including Tracey Emin, Alexander Calder and Ai Weiwei.

Tribunal de Paris

Work has completed on Tribunal de Paris – a tiered skyscraper, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop to become the largest law complex in Europe.

Comprising a series of stacked glass volumes, the 160-metre-high building will bring together the various activities of the French capital’s judiciary system, which had previously been scattered about the city.

Renzo Piano’s studio won a competition to design Tribunal de Paris in 2010. The building’s stacked volumes decrease in size towards the top – an approach that the architects took to reduce the visual impact of the building on the skyline.

Each volume is only 35 metres deep, in order to allow natural light to easily reach the core. A dorsal fin runs up the side of the glazed facade, housing two exterior glass lifts.

If you would like to learn more about other inspiring architects, check out some of our posts about icons like Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, etc.

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