Renzo Piano: biography and the best projects of the architect

On December 4, the House of Culture “HES-2″ opens in Moscow, on the project of which the Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano worked. We tell the story of his life and remember the best buildings.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Yuri Palmin

When the Pompidou Center, designed by Renzo Piano, appeared in Paris, only the lazy one did not talk about it. And its construction was opposed almost with the same fervor as the Eiffel Tower was once opposed. French factories did not take on 120-ton metal parts similar to dragon vertebrae. They had to be secretly ordered in Germany. In addition, the Paris prefect forbade the installation of air intakes, and then President Giscard d’Estaing, replacing Pompidou, decided to shorten the structure by at least one floor. ”He didn’t succeed, but he managed to ruin my vacation,» says Renzo Piano, recalling how off the coast of Corsica in 1974, his yacht was boarded by a coast guard boat in a hurry to convey the will of the president to the architect.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty Images

The Pompidou Center is adored and hated to this day. There are also heated debates about Renzo’s new Moscow project — not everyone liked the blue air intake pipes and Urs Fischer’s sculpture on the Bolotnaya Embankment. But Renzo Piano’s name was recognized even by those who are far from the architectural sphere. And this is not surprising — both for Moscow and for the architect himself, this is a completely unique project.

«It was an offer you couldn’t refuse,» Renzo said in an interview with Alexey Tarkhanov. — I am very grateful to those brave people who conceived it and entrusted it to me. An incredible opportunity to discover the lost world in the very center of Moscow and transform it. A real gift”»

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Gleb LeonovBiography

Renzo Piano was born in Genoa in a family of hereditary builders. His father and brothers developed the business of his grandfather — a small construction company Fratelli Piano. In 1964, Renzo graduated from the Technical University of Milan, and then interned with the legendary architect Louis Kahn in Philadelphia.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

The City Gate project in the Maltese capital Valletta. 

Photo: Michael Dénance

He became famous at the age of 33 when, together with Englishman Richard Rogers, he won an international competition for the project of a cultural center in Paris. «Just a couple of crazy people,» Renzo Piano himself once recalled about the project in an interview with AD. — No, madmen squared: when two psychos collide with each other, madness must be squared. The Pompidou Center was a provocation of ill-mannered youth. But I still love it, and when people ask me, I don’t hesitate to answer: “I think we built a cool building then.”


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Together with Rogers, Renzo also built the main office for B&B Italia near Milan, but in the 1970s the cooperation ceased. Later, the architect opened a new office — Studio Piano & Rice — with engineer Peter Rice. Together with him, they made several projects, including the ”flexible» residential houses Il Rigo Quarter in Perugia and a workshop in Otranto in Italy. By 1981, the partners closed their studio, but despite this, the collaboration continued until the engineer’s death in 1992.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Pavilion at the Chateau La Coast winery, 2017.

Photo: Stephane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT(S)

In 1981, Renzo Piano founded Renzo Piano Building Workshop, an international architectural company with offices in Paris and Genoa. And together with the team, he continues to build to this day — in the portfolio there are projects in Europe, the USA, Australia, Korea, Japan, even in New Caledonia. And now also in Russia.

Renzo Piano has been a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for 15 years. In 1988 he won the Pritzker Prize, in 2006 Time magazine recognized him as one of the most influential people, and in 2013 the architect was made a lifelong senator of the Italian Republic.

Renzo Piano’s Projects

Centre Georges Pompidou (1977)

The Pompidou Center was erected in 1977. The museum is distinguished by its unusual architecture: the building seems to be turned inside out. The construction caused mixed reactions in the 1970s, but nevertheless served as the personification of the beginning of the era of high technology in France. Now the Pompidou Center is the largest museum of contemporary art in Europe. There is a public library, an industrial design center, a music and acoustics research center, a cinema and much more.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty Imadescultural Center named after Jean-Marie Tjibau (1991-1998)

The cultural center is located in New Caledonia, a special administrative-territorial entity of France. It was conceived to reduce ethnic tensions between the local population and Europeans. At the beginning of the XIX century, the island was captured by French colonialists and survived almost two centuries of oppression. At the end of the XX century, a long struggle for the independence of the Kanak people began. It was headed by Jean-Marie Tjibau, after whom the Cultural Center in Noumea was named. 

Renzo Piano built it in the form of ten pavilions arranged in three groups. Each of them has one of the highest huts — the house of the tribal leader is built on this principle. When creating the project, the architect was inspired by the traditional thatched buildings of the indigenous population. The pavilions are made of durable African iroko wood, resistant to termites. And the air temperature in the pavilions is regulated by natural air flows moving from the bay.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty ImadesAeroport Kansai in Japan (1984-1988)

When the competition for the project of the new Kansai airport was announced, he Drunkenly asked for permission to come to the place and walk around there a little with a cigar. The customers were confused, but in the morning they still drove Drunkenly on a boat trip. It was fresh. A little rocked. “Where will the airport be?» — asked Drunkenly. ”Here,» the Japanese smiled. As a result, the gleaming steel roof of the terminal looks like a wave bend. And Drunkenly loves to remember how every morning all the workers did joint gymnastics on the construction site. 

Why was the architect taken on a boat trip? Because the airport was planned to be built on an artificial island, which did not exist before the start of the project. After that, the bottom in Osaka Bay was densely covered with rubble, then a huge steel frame was built around the perimeter of the island, which was methodically filled with special concrete made using technology that prevents its rapid destruction in an aggressive aquatic environment. And only then the construction of the airport began. By the way, the building withstood an earthquake with a strength of 7 points on the Richter scale (even the glass did not break there), as well as a destructive typhoon with a speed of 200 km/ h.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty Imadescenter by Paul Klee (2005)

While working on the center, Renzo stated that his task was to create a building — a portrait of the famous Swiss sculptor, silent and calm, like his work. The museum, located near Klee’s grave, consists of three pavilions whose silhouettes follow the contours of the Alpine hills. An interesting detail: due to the storage conditions of some of Klee’s works, there are no usual overhead lights in the museum.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty ImadesNeboskreb The Shard in London (2012)

In 2012, the construction of the tallest building in the UK, The Shard (“Shard»), was completed. The pyramid-shaped building, completely lined with transparent glass, is a real vertical city. Offices, green areas, residential apartments, restaurants and a hotel are located on 72 floors. And of course, an observation deck at an altitude of 240 m.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Getty Imadesmuseum of Natural Sciences Muse (2013) 

In 2013, the Muse Museum of Natural History, designed by Renzo Piano’s workshop, opened its doors in the Italian city of Trento, whose sloping forms repeat the outlines of the nearby mountains. The museum is surrounded on all sides by artificial pools, forming a whole network of water channels, and the light reflected from the water creates a unique atmosphere, effectively emphasizing the night illumination of the building.

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, 2015

On May 1, 2015, the new building of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York welcomed the first visitors. The transparent-white structure resembled an iceberg washed up on the Hudson River, and became an organic part of the development and visually merged into the environment. At a meeting with journalists preceding the official opening of the museum, the architect said“ «The building of a cultural institution should be open, accessible, not dominating and not pretentious. The border between the street and the building is not visible. You see what is happening outside, you see the traffic, you see pedestrians — after all, this is part of the city”»

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Renzo Piano Building Workshop Jerome Green Research Center (2016)

In 2016, the Jerome Green Research Center appeared on the new campus of Columbia University. The architectural design for the center was created by the Renzo Piano bureau, and the design and construction was handled by the Davis Brody Bond architectural bureau. The two-layer glass walls of the building are designed to cope with the noise from the railway, also the transparent structure allows the maximum amount of daylight into the premises, and at night the Research Center glows from the inside. ”I’m careful about metaphors, but it seems to me that if you can call a building a palace, then it’s a palace of light,» Renzo Piano said. On sunny days, the automatic building management system lowers the blinds on fully glazed facades and turns on artificial light in the rooms. 

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Botín Cultural Center in Santander (2017)

The Botín Cultural Center is divided in half. The two rounded parts are connected by a steel platform, which is an area hovering above the ground. It offers a view of the sea and from the opposite side — the park separating the cultural center from the bustling city. Both parts of the building are decorated with pearl-colored mosaic tiles, so the center shimmers pleasantly in the rays of the sun and the glare of sea water. 

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

House of Culture “HES-2″ in Moscow (2021)

HPP-2 is the City Power Plant No. 2, which appeared in Moscow in 1907. Over time, the building became obsolete, overgrown with «parasitic» extensions and fell into disrepair. The slender facades, in which the architect Vasily Bashkirov put his soul, were closed with inconspicuous fences. But in 2009, the building was given the status of an architectural monument, and in 2014 it was acquired by the V-A-C Foundation for Contemporary Art, and a completely new story began. The Foundation approached Renzo Piano’s studio with a proposal to make a new cultural space out of the power plant, and Renzo Piano gladly agreed. Read our great material about the new House of Culture and an interview with Renzo Piano. 

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Photo: Yuri Palmin

Ренцо Пьяно: биография и лучшие проекты архитектора

Prospect HES-2. 

Photo: Gleb Leonov

More than a hundred people work in Renzo Piano’s workshop. Once in an interview with AD, he said“ «I will stop when I stop recognizing people. I stick my nose everywhere and I like to control everything. An architect who has too much success and staff risks becoming just a businessman. But I am a craftsman, I am the son of a craftsman and I want to die as a craftsman”»

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