Portrait of Italian architect and designer Renzo Piano giving a talk

Renzo Piano

Italian architect and engineer

“You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music; but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.”

Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano (September 14, 1937, Genoa, Italy) is an Italian architect and engineer and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998. Born to a family of builders in Genoa, Renzo Piano graduated from the School of Architecture at Politecnico di Milano in 1964 with a dissertation on modular coordination (coordinazione modulare), supervised by Giuseppe Ciribini, and began working with experimental lightweight structures and basic shelters. After graduating, he taught at the Politecnico di Milano from 1965 to 1968 and apprenticed at his family’s company, Fratelli Piano. To expand his expertise, he worked for architect Louis Kahn in Philadelphia and engineer Zygmunt Stanislaw Makowski in London. While in London Piano met Jean Prouvé, who would have a profound influence on his architecture.

In 1968, Renzo Piano designed his first building, the IPE factory in Genoa, and designed the temporary roof covering of a pavilion at the Triennale di Milano. His first international commission came two years later, when he would collaborate with Fratelli Piano, to work on the Pavilion of Italian Industry for the World’s Fair Exposition (1970) in Osaka, Japan. Fratelli Piano produced a structure of lightweight steel and reinforced polyester for the Pavilion just as Renzo Piano did for the IPE factory. read more

From 1971 to 1977, architect Richard Rogers and Piano opened their own firm named Piano and Rogers. They collaborated on the administrative building of furniture company B&B Italia in Como, Italy. The design of B&B Italia featured a suspended container and open bearing structure, with exposed pipes for heating and water on the exterior of the building painted in bright colors (blue, red, and yellow). This daring design caught the attention of the architectural community and led a choice of jurors to select the duo to design the Centre Georges Pompidou (1971) in Paris. Their high-tech design for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris was made to look like an “urban machine.” As with the B&B Italia building, Piano designed the conduits to be exposed and painted in bright hues. Though the design was unconventional for a museum, the architecture of the Pompidou helped revitalize the area when it became a landmark.

Once his collaboration with Rogers ended, Piano began a partnership with structural engineer Peter Rice (L’Atelier Piano and Rice) between 1977 and 1981. With Rice, Piano focused on revitalizing many urban plans and set up a mobile workshop in Otranto square. The purpose of the workshop, in addition to being an experiment in urban reconstruction, was to encourage creative skills of locals by supplying them with income through town maintenance. It was from this project that in 1981 Piano founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which today employs 150 people and maintains offices in Paris, Genoa, and New York City. This would later highlight Piano’s struggle to surpass creative and scientific constraints. Each design of his would be different from every other design, leaving no room for continuity and leaving everything unique.

In 1991, construction began for Piano’s design for the new Osaka, Japan, airport. The Kansai International Airport, as it is known, was finished in 1994 and is a kite-like structure that is one of the largest buildings Piano has ever designed. Its design and construction had to meet strict structural constraints for an earthquake-proof structure, and the architecture accommodates irregular arches to channel the air from the passenger side of the terminal to the runway side without the need for air ducts.

Also in 1994, Renzo Piano won the international competition for the new Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. A large multifunctional public music complex situated in the north of city, the Auditorium Parco della Musica was inaugurated in 2002. In only a few years, it became the most visited music facility in Europe.

Piano has become known for his museum commissions, including the Morgan Library in New York City and the NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam. On May 16, 2009, he completed the expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago, which includes a 264,000-square-foot (24,500 m2) wing with 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of gallery space called the Modern Wing.

Piano’s design for the new building of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco (completed in 2008) also received a significant amount of acclaim, including from The New York Times, which declared it a “comforting reminder of the civilizing function of great art in a barbaric age.”

Recently, Piano has completed a number of his most notable projects. These include skyscrapers such as The New York Times Building in Midtown Manhattan and The Shard in London, the tallest skyscraper in the European Union, which was opened on July 6, 2012. He has also received a number of major museum commissions.

Today, Piano has offices in Genoa and Paris under the name Renzo Piano Building Workshop. He has won the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1998), the Legion of Honour (1985), the gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London (1989), and the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal (2008). His projects include the UNESCO project in Otranto, the Museum of Science and Technology in Amsterdam, and the City Tech Tower in Brooklyn.

Some of his designs have been controversial, including the almost completed City Gate in Valletta, Malta, which may result in the city’s loss of its UNESCO title.

Among Renzo Piano’s furniture and product designs are: the Teso glass table and bookcases for Fontana Arte (1985), and the Lingotto floor Lamp for iGuzzini (1990).

For additional  information on Renzo Piano, please visit:

Renzo Piano at Pritzker Prize
Renzo Piano at Floor Nature
Biography Renzo Piano at The Morgan
Biography of Italian Architect Renzo Piano at Thought Co.

Last updated: October 18, 2019

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