Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, Italy. His father Carlo, a building constructor, introduced him to the “building world”, an experience that inspired him in his university studies and professional life. After the High School Diploma, he attended the Faculty of Architecture first in Florence and then in Milan.
After graduating, he collaborated with the architect Marco Zanuso; Renzo Piano was a graduate assistant in the “Morphological treatment of materials” course; a marginal course, but very formative, because it encouraged him to work on the physical reality of things and to approach the design process with merit. He taught at the Polytechnic from 1965 to 1968. He broadened his horizons and technical skills working for large international companies.
He completed his first building, the IPE plant in Genoa, in 1968, with a steel and reinforced polyester roof; the same year he designed and built, with an ingenious continuous membrane, the roofing of a pavilion at the Milan Triennale. In 1970, he received his first international commission for the Italian Industry Pavilion for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. The structure was light and original, made of steel and reinforced polyester, and looked both artistic and industrial.
The first works of his career therefore saw the creation of works in which lightweight, shell-shaped spatial structures have experimented with innovative construction and systems borrowed from standardised industrial processes. An example of this phase is the headquarters of B&B Italia in Novedrate di Como (1971-1973), which envisaged as a construction system, the construction of structures for single, highly technological pieces, which were assembled to give life to the entire project and then make it into a single body.
The building is characterised by the transparency between interior and exterior space and the essentiality of the elements used for the construction. The volume that houses the offices seems suspended over the steel grid structure, and the walls no longer have a load-bearing function: they leave space for coloured tubes and large windows that dialogue with the surrounding greenery. This design includes a suspended container and an open load-bearing structure, with heating and water pipes outside painted in bright colours (blue, red and yellow). These unusual features attracted considerable attention in the world of architecture and influenced the choice of the jurors who selected Piano and Rogers to design the Pompidou Centre.
Renzo Piano has completed countless international projects such as the Auditorium della Musica in Rome, a true paradise for all lovers of great music, and Shard London Bridge, the tallest skyscraper in Europe, inaugurated in London at the beginning of July 2012 on the occasion of the Olympic Games. He has been visiting professor at Columbia University in New York, the Faculty of Architecture in Oslo, the Central London Polytechnic and the Architectural Association School in London. Among the many awards, he has received the Pritzker Prize (1998); the Wexner Prize (2001); the gold medal of London’s RIBA – Royal Institute of British Architects (1989); the 1992 Special Culture Prize of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers for architecture in Italy.
Since 2004 he has headed the Renzo Piano Foundation, dedicated to promoting the profession of architect. The last work designed and built-in record time is the Genova San Giorgio Bridge, a reconstruction of the “Morandi Bridge”. The new viaduct over the Polcevera, 1067 metres long and 40 metres high, is supported by 18 pylons and was designed to recall the sea, a key place for the ancient maritime city.
Article edit by Antonio Lo Re