Renzo Piano is one of the most respected architects of his generation. Over the past five decades, he has designed innovative buildings across the globe, from cultural centres and airports to universities and museums. Throughout his career, his central principles have remained unchanged, melding a respect for traditions with an insuppressible adventurous spirit.
Piano was born in 1937 to a family of Genoese builders. He studied at Milan Polytechnic Architecture School, although he later expressed dissatisfaction with the academic approach to architecture, describing it as "without rebellion". After graduation, he was initially employed by his father’s construction company before collaborating with Louis Kahn in the United States and Z.S. Makowsky in the United Kingdom.
The Italian architect rose to fame in 1971 when he and his then-business partner Richard Rogers won the competition to design the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris. The building, completed in 1977, overturned contemporary design norms, revealing rather than disguising the building's inner workings. Piano has referred to the Centre as an ironic building, explaining that "It’s really more a parody of technology than technology." The stark contrast between the Centre and its classical surroundings initially generated controversy, but it has since become an accepted part of the Parisian cityscape and a hugely popular cultural space.
Clarity of design has been a constant in Piano's designs. His vision for Kansai Airport, brought to life in 1994, centres around the use of glass walls to display all aspects of the airport's operation. In 1998, Piano received that year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, with commentators praising his œuvre for being consistently humane, intelligent and resourceful. Piano's willingness to respond to his surroundings and their associated cultural traditions is particularly evident in the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre on the Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia, which pays tribute to the building traditions of the indigenous Kanak people.
The L'Aquila Auditorium was built as a temporary structure in Aquila, Italy, after a devastating earthquake destroyed the city's auditorium. Piano used colourfully-painted larch beams to construct a cube-shaped structure with fabulous acoustics, which was was delivered as a flat-pack for convenience. Trees were planted to offset the environmental impact of the wooden design.
One of Piano's most-talked about constructions is The Shard, completed in 2012. The tallest building in western Europe, Piano insists it was not designed to break records, but to create a vertical city with the human experience at its core. Multi-functionality is central to the building's design, which contains offices, apartments and a hotel. The low-iron glass façade is intended to act akin to a crystal, reflecting and changing its appearance with the light to make the building as much of a living part of the city as the streets below.
Piano's most recent commission is part of the large-scale regeneration of Sydney harbour. His Renzo Piano Building Workshop has designed two residential high-rises, located on the Barangaroo South waterfront. The skyscrapers will sit alongside contributions from other leading architects, including Piano's former partner, Richard Rogers.
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