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Spotlight: Renzo Piano

Spotlight: Renzo Piano
© Architecture Record
© Architecture Record

“Architecture is art, but art vastly contaminated by many other things. Contaminated in the best sense of the word – fed, fertilized by many things.” - Renzo Piano

Italian architect Renzo Piano (born 14 September 1937) is known for his delicate and refined approach to building, deployed in museums and other buildings around the world. Awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1998, the Pritzker Jury compared him to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, explaining that "his intellectual curiosity and problem-solving techniques as broad and far ranging as those earlier masters of his native land."

Pathé Foundation. Image © Michel Denancé Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Image © Nic Lehoux Harvard Art Museums Renovation and Expansion. Image © Nic Lehoux Menil Collection. Image © D Jules Gianakos +22

Centre Georges Pompidou. Image © conservapedia.com
Centre Georges Pompidou. Image © conservapedia.com

Born in Genoa, Piano was originally expected to follow the family tradition and become a builder but instead he chose design, studying architecture in Milan. After working for Louis Kahn between 1965 and 1970, personal success came early in Piano's career: at the age of 34, he and Richard Rogers won the design competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris. After the completion of the building, Piano spent four years working alongside Peter Rice, the engineer of the Pompidou, before founding his firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1981.

Menil Collection. Image © D Jules Gianakos
Menil Collection. Image © D Jules Gianakos

The ground-breaking success of the Pompidou led Piano to a number of other museum commissions, including another of his most widely-praised works, the Menil Collection in Houston which opened in 1987. Today Renzo Piano is perhaps the world's most prolific museum designer, but in his own practice, his designs became markedly different from the flamboyant structural display of the Centre Pompidou; he has instead become revered for his light designs and precise detailing (although many critics sensed the ghost of the Pompidou in his Whitney Museum of American Art, completed almost 40 years later). Piano refuses the idea that his work displays any single style, however, telling The Independent “I think it ["style"] is a trap. But what I don’t hate is ‘intelligence’ or ‘coherence’. Because coherence is not about shape, it is about something stronger, more humanistic, more poetic even.”

Harvard Art Museums Renovation and Expansion. Image © Nic Lehoux
Harvard Art Museums Renovation and Expansion. Image © Nic Lehoux

This reputation for sensitivity and coherence has enabled him to build alongside some of the greatest architectural works of the 20th century: in recent years, he has completed buildings adjacent to Le Corbusier's Chapel at Ronchamp and Carpenter Center at Harvard, and Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Image © Nic Lehoux
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Image © Nic Lehoux

In awarding him the 1998 Pritzker Prize, the jury praised Piano's sensitivity but also his versatility, citing projects such as his Kansai Airport Terminal in Osaka as evidence that he was capable of more than just museums - a fact that would be reinforced in the decades to come with projects such as the Shard in London. The jury stated that "by choosing a career as an architect rather than contractor, he may have broken with a family tradition in one sense, but in fact, he has enhanced that tradition in ways his forebears could only have imagined."

The Shard. Image © Eric Smerling
The Shard. Image © Eric Smerling

See all of Renzo Piano's work featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage via the links below that:

Centre Georges Pompidou. Image © conservapedia.com MUSE. Image © Shunji Ishida Diogene. Image Courtesy of Julien Lanoo © Vitra Auditorium in L’Aquila. Image © Marco Caselli Nirmal California Academy of Sciences Renzo Piano Pavilion at Kimbell Art Museum. Image © Robert Polidori Pathé Foundation. Image © Michel Denancé Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Image © Nic Lehoux Astrup Fearnley Museet. Image © Nic Lehoux Volcano Buono. Image © Moreno Maggi Harvard Art Museums Renovation and Expansion. Image © Nic Lehoux Central St. Giles Court. Image © Michel Denancé Centre Culturel Jean-Marie Tjibaou. Image © Flickr user tim-waters Menil Collection. Image © D Jules Gianakos Centre Georges Pompidou. Image © Francis Toussaint The Whitney Museum. Image © Nic Lehoux Menil Collection. Image © D Jules Gianakos Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. Image © Nic Lehoux Intesa Sanpaolo Office Building. Image © Enrico Cano Valletta City Gate. Image © Michel Denancé +22

AD Interviews: Renzo Piano - Part I

AD Interviews: Renzo Piano - Part II

AD Interviews: Renzo Piano - Part III

The Menil Collection selected to receive AIA Twenty-five Year Award

Shard Wins Emporis Skyscraper Award

Critical Round-Up: Renzo Piano's Whitney Museum

Video: Renzo Piano Reveals the Story Behind the Whitney Museum on Charlie Rose

Piano Takes on Kahn at Kimbell Museum Expansion

Seeming Inevitability: Reconsidering Renzo Piano's Addition To Louis Kahn's Kimbell

VIDEO: Renzo Piano Pavilion at Kimbell Art Museum

Critical Round-Up: Renzo Piano's Harvard Art Museums

Renzo Piano Explains How To Design the Perfect Museum

Renzo Piano on the Whitney Museum and the Value of Public Space

Interview: Renzo Piano on Innovation / AR Innovators

Cite: Rory Stott. "Spotlight: Renzo Piano" 14 Sep 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/273403/happy-birthday-renzo-piano/>