The Pritzker Prize acclaimed as the Nobel Prize of Architecture, was bestowed on Italian architect, Renzo Penzo; born in Genoa in 1937 into a family of builders. In fact, the Pritzker Jury likened him to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, showcasing ‘his intellectual curiosity and problem-solving techniques as broad and far-ranging as those earlier masters of his native land.’
Today, Piano probably has emerged as the world's most prolific museum designer, though in his own practice, his designs became distinctly varied, respected for his light designs and precise detailing. While Piano maintains that he doesn't have a signature style, and treats every assignment as a problem requiring its own practical solution, there is no doubt that, across his wide-ranging portfolio of projects, engineering and technology play a pivotal role, and he has been a key figure within the high-tech architecture style that emerged in Britain in the late 1960s. The two key qualities that he normally attributes in his work are lightness and transparency which normally extend to the structural language. From the elegant, jagged form of The Shard to the floating roof of the Beyeler Foundation, there are elements which are perceived to be both monumental and lightweight.
Piano’s penchant for tackling architectural problems through a blend of technology and modern solutions was evident in many of his designs: for the Menil Collection museum, he utilised ferroconcrete leaves in the roof, which served a dual purpose as a form of protection against ultraviolet light and as a heat source; while the building’s low scale and continuous veranda maintained the architectural integrity of the surrounding residential structures.
Piano’s other notable projects include San Nicola Soccer Stadium; Kansai International Airport Terminal; Auditorium Parco della Musica; Beyeler Foundation Museum. A well-appreciated green architecture project was the building, California Academy of Sciences.
Piano was heard saying in a recent film, ‘I like the idea that architecture is made in such a way that you see the trace of your hands there. Even if you do it by machine, it doesn't matter, you still feel the way the pieces come together, and coming together they create something that makes sense.’ Probably, that is the reason why he sees architecture as a civic duty to be taken seriously, embodying good value systems and improving the lives of the people around them. This underlying spirit is seen in the novel projects that Piano has worked on such as: including the conversion of a massive historic Fiat plant into an exhibition and convention centre; the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago; The Shard formerly known as London Bridge; and the mammoth skyscraper that houses the headquarters of The New York Times.
His most recent projects include the Istanbul Modern Museum; the Paris Courthouse; and the 3 lakh sq.ft campus of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, scheduled to open in 2020 which will be the world’s largest movie museum.
Piano started in 1981 his architectural firm, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which has now offices in Italy, France and the USA. In the firm’s website is the quote of Renzo Piano, ’One of the greatest beauties of architecture is that each time it is like life starting all over again.’
In August 2018, Piano’s native city, Genoa, witnessed the terrible collapse of the 3878-ft Morandi Bridge which killed 43 people. Following this disaster, Renzo Piano donated to his city the design for the new bridge over the Polcevera River, approved at the end of the year, for which Piano will serve as the supervisor.
Besides being a Pritzker Laureate, Piano has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale Prize for architecture and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. Piano was also the first Italian to be included on Time’s famous list of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World (2006)’. He has been a UNESCO ambassador since 2007 and a senator for life since 2013.
In this backdrop, it is apt to recall one of Piano’s lectures where he interprets architecture as ‘the art of giving shelter to human activities..., the art of building the city and its spaces, like the streets, the squares, the bridges, the parks. And within the city, the meeting places, those gathering places that give the city its social and cultural function. But naturally, that’s not all. Because architecture is also a vision of the world. Architecture can only be humanistic, because the city with its buildings is a way of seeing, building, and changing the world.’
Hemalatha is a Chennai-based architect with experience in practicing & teaching architecture, and co-founder of SIDART Photography.