In this section you will find a monthly presentation of a selection of world class architects interviewed in the framework of our Archi-News magazine.
Renzo Piano is certainly one of the greatest architects of our time. Recent projects as well as a few iconic works show a very eclectic approach.
Renzo Piano considers his work as audacious and complex, «at the limits of invention and memory, a balance between art and science, between courage of modernity and caution of tradition ». For him, who grew up on the building sites of his father, a contractor, the construction miracle is permanent. From his childhood he keeps the passion for all the know-hows. Born in Genoa in 1937, he continues his university curriculum at the Milan Polytechnic School where he obtained in 1964 his architecture diploma. Between the advices of Franco Albini, his work at the University with Marco Zanuso on the 'morphological treatment of materials' and his regular visits to his father’s building sites, he acquires an invaluable experience to complete his academic training. Buckminster Fuller, Konrad Wachmanns and Jean Prouvé have strongly influenced his professional life. In 1971, he creates the Piano & Rogers Agency with Richard Rogers, his partner on the Centre Pompidou project in Paris. He then cooperates with Peter Rice within the Atelier Piano & Rice (1977 to 1981). In 1981, he starts the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, still active today. His sensitivity and humanist approach of architecture and urban design have been acknowledged worldwide with numerous distinctions and prizes, such as the prestigious Pritzker prize in 1998. Renzo Piano spends his time travelling between his offices in Paris, Genoa and New York, managed by his thirteen partners and a staff of 130 architects, engineers and specialists.
Since the Centre Pompidou project, conceived to «arouse curiosity» (its specific identity comes from its load-bearing structure pushing back the colored technical sheaths on the outside), Renzo Piano never stopped astonishing people. Looking through the list of his projects, one is impressed by his gifts to invent materials or technologies, which he manages to keep almost invisible. And also his ability to be present worldwide. If some architects have a very personal style, Renzo Piano tries to implement a few coherent ideas in each one of his projects by an extraordinary diversity of means. With his fierce will to never give way to a compromise. Curiosity, stubbornness and passion enabled him to never give way.You can’t identify his signature at first sight. For him, the most important is to understand the customer's expectations, the users’ needs, the site’s characteristics, the financial stakes, the available techniques. That’s why his achievements never look alike. Renzo Piano starts with a constructive element or a sophisticated technology to give the rightest possible answer expressing the singularity of the project.
For Renzo Piano an architect must also be a city planner, to measure the impregnation of the site, the town and its inhabitants. It is sometimes linked to a strong culture, like the Tjibaou Center in Nouméa, inspired by the Kanak culture huts to which it is dedicated. Or also to a historic event, like the Potsdamer Platz, symbol of Berlin’s renewal after Germany’s reunification. This district, started from a wasteland, enabled to create an authentic urban life by integrating the residential buildings to the trading, real estate business and leisure areas. This impregnation is a necessary research vital to its creation. His will to reduce the 'black holes' caused by the industrial zones, now liberated by the moving of the production activities, gives him the possibility to transform these areas in connections between the town and the outskirts. The 'happy city' is a concept the architect wants to introduce right into the suburbs, because as long as they stay dormitories, they are not cities. Renzo Piano wants to put up a sustainable growth program to transform suburbs into towns. Built as a temporary concert hall to replace the one damaged by the 2009 earthquake, the Aquila Auditorium is simply composed of three pure volumes, apparently fixed at random and covered with larch slates painted in different colours corresponding to a very specific colour coding system. «In architecture, the research of lightness brings to transparency, to light, to vibrations, he underlines. It is another weapon against the gravity strength.» The architect is indeed happy to use immaterial elements, as well as forms and materials. Because Renzo Piano is fighting against these towers closed behind dark glass or mirrors. With his New York Times building in Manhattan, favouring elegance of lines and energy savings, he insists on its transparency and sensitivity in resonance with the city. The insertion of a new building in a historic town means starting an open dialogue, physically with the surrounding constructions. Building on an existing structure is also an opportunity to recover the space. Unexpected presence in the heart of Paris, the new headquarters of the Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation shows a curved volume floating in the middle of a courtyard. The street façade, preserved and restored, hides a transparent construction, like a greenhouse with the public area of the Foundation. Strongly asymmetric, the new Whitney Museum, inaugurated in May 2015 is installed with a spectacular cantilever, with a public space serving as decompression chamber between the street and the museum. The eight story building covered with light grey enamelled steel sheets, permits a nice overview on a large collection including today more than 19000 pieces of art. Renzo Piano is very much inspired by environment protection. «Our obligation is to poetically transform the ecologic language codes in order to combine environment respect and beauty.» Interpretation of the advancing green revolution and example of Renzo Piano’s responsible attitude, the Californian Academy of Sciences multiplies ecologic innovations in a group of twelve buildings connected under a one hectare green roof. This exemplary architecture favours natural light, solar energy, material recycling.The proof that the environment constraints must not be seen as liberty mutilation. The future, rich of projects and reflections, is certainly moving in that direction.
1 Renzo Piano © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Stefano Goldberg
2 Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1971-1977 / renovation 1997-2000) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Michel Denancé
3 Potsdamer Platz Vincent Mosch, Berlin, Germany (1992-2001) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Vincent Mosch
4 Kansai International Airport Terminal, Osaka, Japan (1988-1994) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Ph.Kawatetsu
5 Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa, New-Caledonia (1991-1998) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo John Gollings
6 California Sciences Academy, San Francisco, USA (2000-2008) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Tom Fox, SWA Group
7 Auditorium del Parco, L'Aquila, Italy (2010-2012) © photo Auditorium del Parco
8 Pathé Foundation, Paris, France (2006 - 2014) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Michel Denancé
9 The Whitney Museum, New York, USA (2007-2015) © RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop photo Nic Lehoux
1 Renzo Piano
2 Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
3 Potsdamer Platz Vincent Mosch, Berlin, Germany
4 Kansai International Airport Terminal, Osaka, Japan
5 Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa, New-Caledonia
6 California Sciences Academy, San Francisco, USA
7 Auditorium del Parco, L'Aquila, Italy
8 Pathé Foundation, Paris, France
9 The Whitney Museum, New York, USA