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RENZO PIANO
 
 
 
 
  Name   Renzo Piano
       
  Born   September 14 , 1937 
       
  Died    
       
  Nationality   Italy
       
  School    
       
  Official website   www.rpbw.com
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

Renzo Piano, born in 1937 in the Mediterranean harbor city of Genoa, has been one of the most influential architectural personalities since the 1980s. He was strongly influenced by Franco Albini and Ernesto Rogers, who were his professors at the Polytechnical University in Milan. Jean Prouvé, Pierluigi Nervi, and the work of Buckminster Fuller also exerted a strong influence on the architect.

After Piano ended his academic career at the Polytechnical University, he founded Studio Piano, his first architectural office (1964–70). During this period, Piano also worked with Louis I.Kahn in Philadelphia and Z.S.Makowsky in London. He first gained international recognition when he went into partnership with English architect Richard Rogers from 1971 to 1977, emphasizing technology in architecture. From 1977 to 1981, he partnered with engineer and humanist Peter Rice (1935–92), who influenced Piano’s work significantly with his focus on structural systems. After the death of Rice, Piano founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The innovative and experimental character of Piano’s work is based on team workshops that are filled with young talent from around the world. Like only a handful of architects, Piano has planned and realized a broad range of projects on a worldwide basis.

For Piano architecture is a creative process of communication and participation in which architectural solutions follow a process of diagnosis, design, realization, and documentation. This procedure was developed during the UNESCO-Workshop in Otranto, Italy (1978). A mobile display and communication box covered with a tent structure offered a central public forum. Piano created an environment allowing direct verbal confrontation and active participation of the community in the search for respectful restoration methods.

Piano and Rogers’s Georges Pompidou Center (1978) is located in a sensitive urban environment in downtown Paris. Against considerable public and political resistance, Piano and Rogers designed a cultural forum in the form of a highly visible machine. Approximately 25,000 visitors participate daily in all sorts of cultural events on the inside as well as on the rectangular plaza in front of the Pompidou Center. Visitors enter the building through a transparent escalator that is attached to the external structural framework, which opens to a multilevel, open spatial layout. The floor plan is flexible and non-load bearing.

In 1982 Piano produced the space of the Palazzo a Vela in Turin, Italy, for the exhibition of the works of Alexander Calder. He put a stage installation together that incorporated the play of light, space, and temperature. Piano was able to create an open environment that liberated the boundaries of materiality. The dark and cool space offers a dimension where the mobile structures of Calder have a maximal effect on their observer.

Piano’s work often experiments with the use of materials, which was especially evident in the IBM Traveling Pavilion (1986). The 48-meter-long tube was designed to display new forms of communication technology. The modular and transparent exhibition space is remarkable in its unusual combination of old and new materials and their connecting techniques.

In Turin Piano was engaged with the reorganization of a historical industrial monument, the Lingotto (1995). In the 1920s, engineer Matté Trucco designed a 500- meter-long and five-story-high industrial complex for the car manufacturer Fiat. At its time, the structure followed the requirements of functionalism. Piano transformed this highly visible sign of the industrial revolution into a “multifunctional service and research center.” He placed a large auditorium space for cultural events into the existing structure. An inner courtyard was transformed into a public garden that reflected the Mediterranean character of Turin, and a rooftop, bubble-formed conference room located close to a helicopter platform became a new symbol of innovation for the city.

For the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, Piano completed in 1992 his first large-scale urban project. His hometown, Genoa, commissioned Piano to permanently reorganize the old harbor to revitalize the abandoned maritime area. Piano was confronted with the difficult task of linking the industrial harbor with the historic town structure by overcoming a division marked by an elevated major arterial road. Piano demolished no buildings but, rather, carefully implemented new functions in restored historical buildings or added new ones. His gentle revitalization concept helped to develop the old harbor into a vital cultural and recreational center of Genoa.

Piano and Rice built the San Nicola sports stadium (1990) in Bari, Italy, for the soccer world championship. The project requirements demanded that 60,000 people could enjoy the game and that standards for security not be ignored. They focused on optimal visibility, modular separation of fan masses, and an unusually high number of exit systems. Staircases between the seating sections also enhanced the vertical and horizontal cross ventilation. Piano and Rice created an elliptical floral-like stadium, expressing the plasticity of reinforced concrete in the manner of Pier Luigi Nervi.

The 220 low-income apartments (1991) in the Rue de Meaux in Paris were Piano’s first housing complexes in which he proved that architectural and spatial quality do not always depend on large budgets. The facade demonstrates Piano’s passion to reinvent the application of traditional and new materials. Glass, terra-cotta, and fiber-reinforced concrete exude Piano’s interpretation of Le Corbusian rationality.

Piano’s final project with Rice was the design and construction of the Kansai International Airport (1994) in Osaka, Japan; a steel building of simple geometry in which most internal structural elements were left visible. A physical site literally did not exist, as the proposed location of the airport was in the oceanic bay of Osaka. An artificial island on stilts first had to be built under extreme engineering demands. Piano envisioned a 1.7-kilometer-long building whose form derived from precise mathematical calculations following the laws of aerodynamics.

Piano unifies science and architecture in his work. Punta Nave, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Genoa-Vesima (1991), also serves as a UNESCO laboratory for climate and the use of natural light in architecture. The transparent building is located on a significant slope, accessible only by cable car. The workshop building is organized in sections that step topographically down hills, providing most workspaces with a view to the Mediterranean Sea. The glass roof is partially covered with solar-controlled louvers that interact automatically with changing daylight conditions. With this rather small project, Piano was able to create a productive team space in which architects and scientists are able to explore architectural solutions in tune with their environment. Among others, this building exemplifies Piano’s methods and ideas pertaining to sustainable architecture.

In Switzerland, Piano realized the Fondation Beyler Museum (1997) in Riehen/Basel. Similar to the Menil Collection, his most important building material was the natural light that he physically enclosed with sandstone, steel, and glass. The strict and rectangular building is covered by a glass roof and opens on three sides to a park. Like few other architects, Piano understands how to dissolve the barriers between inside and outside. One is reminded of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion in the way that Piano connects exhibition space on the inside and water ponds on the outside. The museum is extended into a space continuum that finds a symbiosis between art and architecture.

At the very end of the 20th century, Piano’s most significant project was the new multifunctional development of the Potsdamer Platz (1999) in Berlin. The Potsdamer Platz was one of Europe’s most important centers of cultural life in the 1920s. For Piano it meant that he had to redevelop what years ago was either destroyed by World War II or erased by postwar city planners. Under the leadership of Piano, internationally renowned architects, such as Arata Isozaki, Hans Kohlhoff, Lauber and Wöhr, Rafael Moneo, and Richard Rogers, have transferred the Postdamer Platz from a deserted empty historical space back into a lively part of downtown Berlin. New architectural developments range from shopping centers, theater, cinemas, restaurants, offices, and corporate headquarters to apartment houses. Surrounded by the water of the nearby Spree River, Piano designed eight of the 19 buildings of the Postdamer Platz. His buildings have the double-layered terra-cotta facade to formally unify the large area as a whole. As the core project, he created a new piazza between Potsdamer Strasse and Kulturforum as a metaphoric intersection between the former East and West German cultures.

Piano’s projects are difficult to place in a particular category, but he is certainly one of the most exceptional architects of the 20th century. He constantly tries to liberate his design intentions from formal constricting preoccupations as he unifies art and technique. For Piano, the design process is not a linear progression to the final product. Piano’s architecture develops out of a circular process in which presolutions are constantly reevaluated. For that reason, the team workshops develop a countless number of models on an extraordinary high level of craftsmanship. His architecture often applies the latest technology but is never dominated by it. As a result, most of his buildings appear rich in details but often seem so light as to lift up in the wind. Stability is achieved by their flexibility—an intelligent relationship to dominant cultural, historical, and environmental facts.

 

RICHARD KÖCK

Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.3.  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
   

14 September 1937 Born in Genoa, Italy, son of a builder;

1959–64 Studied at Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture with Ernesto Rogers, Jean Prouvé, and Franco Albini;

Studied two years at the University in Florence.

Married first wife Magda Arduino in Milan; 3 children: Carlo, Matteo, and Lia.

1964–70 Opened first architectural office in Milan, with additional work with Louis Kahn in Philadelphia and Z.S. Makowky in London;

1969 First major commission in the Italian Industry Pavilion at Expo 1970 in Osaka, Japan;

1971–77 In partnership with Richard Rogers (Piano & Rogers);

1977–81 Later worked with Peter Rice in partnership (Atelier Piano & Peter Rice);

1978 Awarded International Union of Architects Prize, Mexico City;

1980 Established Renzo Building Workshop with offices in Genoa and Paris, with about 100 employees;

1981 Honorary Fellow American Institute of Architects;

1985 Honorary Fellow Royal Institute of British Architects ;

1989 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture/Royal Institute of British Architects;

1990 Honorary Doctorate Stuttgart University, Germany ;

1991 Honorary Doctorate University of Delft, the Netherlands ;

Since 1992 married to E. Rossato;

1994 Goodwill Ambassador for Architecture, UNESCO ;

1998 Pritzker Architecture Prize .

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
   

Buchanan, Peter, Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete Works, 4 vols., London: Phaidon Press, 1993

Dini, Massino (editor), Renzo Piano: Progetti e architetture, 1964—1983, Milan: Electa, 1983; as Renzo Piano: Projects and Buildings, 1964–1983, New York: Electa/Rizzoli, and London: Electa/ Architectural Press, 1983

Lepik, Andres (editor), Renzo Piano: Architekturen des Lebens (exhib. cat.), Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2000

 

Selected Publications

Renzo Piano and Building Workshop, Buildings and Projects, 1971—1989, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1989

Renzo Piano: progetti e architetture 1987–1994, Boston: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1994

The Renzo Piano Logbook, London: Thames and Hudson, 1997

Fondation Beyeler: A Home for Art, Boston: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1998

Renzo Piano: Sustainable Architecture, Barcelona: Corte Madera, Gingko Press, 1998

Architekturen des Lebens (Architecture of Life), Ostfildern/Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2000

 

MORE BOOKS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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