Piano, Renzo

Piano, Renzo
▪ 2006
 With construction under way in 2005 on office buildings, commercial spaces, museums, and residential complexes throughout the world, Italian architect Renzo Piano proved himself as one of the most sought-after and prolific architects of the new century. Having designed just two museums in the United States prior to the turn of the century, by 2005 Piano was working on more than half a dozen projects in that country alone. Among them were a new office tower for the New York Times Co., a new campus for Columbia University in Manhattan, and the expansions of six museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Although the number of museums on the list led some critics to worry that the structures might end up looking too much alike, the museum directors had no such qualms. Piano received high praise from clients for his varied portfolio, as well as for his sensitivity to a building's function and its interaction with the surrounding community. Following in the wake of such architects as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Michael Libeskind, all known for the audaciousness of their designs, Piano came across as a consummately practical man, one who would rather be known for the technical quality of his buildings than for a trademark style, and his designs were considered refreshingly human in scale.

      Piano was born on Sept. 14, 1937, into a family of building contractors in Genoa. At age 17 he decided to attend architecture school. His father's response to the decision, in which architecture compared unfavourably with construction, remained with Piano, and the architect became known for his intimate involvement with, and stringent testing of, his structures from conception through finished construction. After graduating (1964) from Milan Polytechnic Architecture School, he worked for his father's company. In the early 1970s he began a collaboration with British architect Richard Rogers that lasted until the end of the decade. In 1971 they won the international competition for the Pompidou Centre in Paris with their unmistakable inside-out design. The architecture critic Paul Goldberger described Piano's style after the Pompidou Centre as “straighter, quieter, and vastly more inventive” in its “expression of technology.” Notable in this regard were the Menil Collection museum (1986) in Houston, the San Nicola Stadium (1990) in Bari, Italy, the Kansai International Airport Terminal (1994) near Osaka, the Beyeler Foundation Museum (1997) near Basel, Switz., and the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center (1998) in Nouméa, New Caledonia. Piano's many honours included the 1995 Erasmus Prize for contributions to European culture and the 1998 Pritzker Architectural Prize. In 1994 he was named UNESCO's goodwill ambassador for architecture, and in 2000 he was made an officer in the French Legion of Honour.

Janet Moredock

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▪ Italian architect
born Sept. 14, 1937, Genoa, Italy

      Italian architect best known for his high-tech public spaces, particularly his design (with Richard Rogers (Rogers, Richard)) for the Centre Georges Pompidou (Pompidou Centre) in Paris.

      Born into a family of builders, Piano graduated from the Polytechnic in Milan in 1964. He worked with a variety of architects, including his father, until he established a partnership with Rogers from 1970 to 1977. Their high-tech design for the Centre Georges Pompidou (Pompidou Centre) in Paris (1971–77), made to look like an “urban machine,” immediately gained the attention of the international architectural community. Colourful airducts and elevators positioned on the building's exoskeleton created a vivid aesthetic impression, and the structure's playfulness challenged staid, institutional ideas of what a museum should be. From a functional standpoint, the position of service elements such as elevators on the exterior allowed an open, flexible plan in the building's interior. While many complained that it did not fit the context of the historic neighbourhood, the Pompidou nonetheless helped bring about the revitalization of the area when it became an internationally renowned landmark.

      Piano's interest in technology and modern solutions to architectural problems was evident in all his designs, although he often took greater account of the structure's context. His design for the Menil Collection museum (1982–86; with Richard Fitzgerald) in Houston, Texas, utilized ferroconcrete leaves in the roof, which served as both a heat source and a form of protection against ultraviolet light. At the same time, the building's low scale and continuous veranda are in keeping with the mostly residential structures nearby. In his San Nicola Soccer Stadium (1987–90) in Bari, Italy, Piano used reinforced concrete petals supported by elegant pillars. The beauty and grace of the design reflect architectural traditions of the region; at the same time, by keeping the fans of opposing teams separate and creating an open plan that made all areas visible, the design discouraged the riots and violence that sometimes attended soccer events. His other important commissions include the Kansai International Airport Terminal (1988–94) in Ōsaka, Japan, the Auditorium Parco della Musica (1994–2002) in Rome, and the Beyeler Foundation Museum (1992–97) in Basel, Switz. One of his most celebrated 21st-century projects, notable for its green architecture, was a new building for the California Academy of Sciences (completed 2008) in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

      Piano also worked on urban revitalization plans, including the conversion of a massive historic Fiat factory in Turin (1983–2003) into the city's trade fair and convention centre district and the master plan for the revitalized Potsdamer Platz in Berlin (1992–2000). He has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Japan Art Association's Praemium Imperiale prize for architecture (1995), the Pritzker Architecture Prize (Pritzker Prize) (1998), and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (2008).

Additional Reading
Peter Buchanan, Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete Works, 4 vol. (1993–2000); Emilio Pizzi, Renzo Piano (2003), in German and English.

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Universalium. 2010.

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