Written by Alexandra Chipperfield and Dr. Jennifer Lau, under the supervision of Dr. Gaoheng Zhang.
Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, Italy on September 14, 1937 into a family of Genoese builders. His early years proved to be formative for his future success as a renowned high-tech architect. From a young age, Piano recollects being inspired by buildings and model-making, and credits his love for craftsmanship to his father, Carlo Piano. Together with his three brothers, Renzo’s father created the firm Fratelli Piano, and ran a successful business that built homes and factories in the post-war era.
Piano studied and subsequently taught at the Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture. During his time at the Polytechnic, he worked closely with Franco Albini, an architect who is considered a master of Italian Neo-Rationalism. Upon graduation, his first commissioned work was the Italian Industry Pavilion for the Osaka Expo in 1970, a project which he carried out alongside his brother. His commission for the Expo led to an important connection for Piano: his skill for design became admired by fellow Italian-British architect Richard Rogers.
In 1971, President of France, Georges Pompidou, held an international competition to find the most fitting architect to create what would become a new cultural center in Paris. Pompidou’s goal was to reassert France’s role on the world stage, for this reason he envisioned a cultural center that would be unprecedented in character and size. Both relatively unknown architects at this time, Piano and Rogers jointly entered the competition and won among 681 other entries. Through their collaboration, the Pompidou Centre became a cultural landmark for the city of Paris: the building became a vehicle for urban exchange and regeneration. Almost instantly, Piano and Rogers became internationally recognized.
After achieving worldwide fame, Piano made the move to Paris where he eventually established the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) in 1981. Today the RPBW practice holds offices in Genoa, Paris and New York and has since grown to employ 110 architects.1 Piano employs an international approach which stems from his desire to explore and create innovative methods that can contribute to the relationship within each city he works in.
Piano is known for creating with sustainability and technology in mind. In Chinese research, the architect’s way of connecting humanity, architecture, and the environment is admired. Moreover, inspired by his childhood in Genoa, Piano has also become a prominent proponent for creating open spaces in his buildings to foster a sense of community and diversity: his goal has been to replicate the same feeling found in Italian piazze or city squares. With that in mind, let’s explore his influence around the world!
Renzo Piano in Italy
Genoa (Renzo Piano’s Hometown):
As Piano was born and raised in Genoa, his influence can be found on many streets in the Ligurian capital today. For him, it is important to “strengthen the role that Genoa has always had in Europe and in the Meditteranean.”2
Genoa Aquarium (Acquario di Genova):
Europe’s second largest aquarium opened in 1992 for the Genoa Expo ’92.
Located in the old port of the city, Piano was adamant that the structure blend seamlessly with its surroundings. The exterior of the building resembles a shipping container, while the interior shows a dramatic setting with large glass panels. The building is comprised of seven levels by the waterside, and yet it only rises three metres above the sea level.
Genoa’s Brin MetroStation (Brin – Metropolitana di Genova):
The Brin station was officially inaugurated on June 13, 1990. It is currently the only metro station in Genoa that is not underground. The tracks are enclosed within large glass panel walls. The surrounding glass gallery was designed to protect passengers from inclement weather, and to keep noise from projecting to surrounding homes.