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renzo piano

abhishek behera
Renzo Piano was born into a family of
builders in Genoa, Italy in 1937.
His being a family of contractors;
including his grandfather, father, four
uncles and a brother; was up against the
idea of his choosing architecture as a
career option. His father had once asked
him “Why become an architect when
you can be a builder?”
Renzo Piano rejected his father‟s trade
and studied architecture at Milan
Polytechnic Architecture School.

During his studies he worked under the

design guidance of Neo-Rationalist
Franco Albini. After his graduation in 1964
Renzo Piano worked in his father's
company for a brief period, gaining
practical experience. During 1965-1970
Renzo Piano worked in offices of Louis I.
Kahn in Philadelphia and Z S Makowski in
During his travels in America and London, he met Jean Pouvre, a French
metal worker and designer. His friendship with him is said to have deeply
influenced his professional life.

During this time, Piano moonlighted on his own projects, including a series
of temporary structures featuring steel space frames wrapped with
reinforced-polyester panels. These early pavilions reveal a number of
themes that run through almost all of his subsequent work: to minimize a
building‟s actual and apparent weight, an experimental approach to
materials, an obsession with inventive ways of connecting building
elements, and a knack for turning exposed, repetitive structure into
poetic form.
In the 1970s and early ‟80s, Piano continued to explore notions of mobility
in projects such as an experimental vehicle for Fiat, a mobile construction
unit for use in Senegal, and a travelling exhibition pavilion for IBM.

Piano‟s investigations in temporary architecture led to his first major

commission: the Italian Industry Pavilion at the Osaka Expo in 1970. A
tensile structure with a steel frame and reinforced-polyester panels, the
early life

giant rectangular building conjured images of a high-tech circus tent. An

experiment in prefabrication, the building was shipped to Japan in 15

While still studying in Milan, Renzo Piano married Magda Arduino, a girl he
had known from school days in Genoa. They have three children- two
sons and a daughter.
The first significant assignment of Piano was in 1969 when
he had to designed the Italian pavilion at Expo‟70 in
Osaka, Japan. The event was important in a way, as he
met Richard Rogers who was impressed by the way
Renzo had planned the entire episode. Their liaison was
fruitful in the forthcoming events as both entered the
international competition for the Georges Pompidou
Centre . A controversial selection, Piano and Rogers‟s
design elicited howls of scorn from conservative critics
and defenders of ancient Paris.
They were both introduced to structural engineer Peter
Rice during the construction of Pompidou Centre.
As Piano tackled major commissions, such as the Menil
Collection in Houston (completed in 1986), San Nicola
Stadium in Bari, Italy (1987), and Kansai Airport in Osaka,
Japan (1994), Rice helped him integrate structure and
form in each project.
His other works include the Fiat Lingotto Factory
renovation, and the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center
in New Caledonia in the ‟90s; and the Rome Auditoria,
the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Beyeler Foundation,
Berlin‟s Potsdamer Platz, the Zentrum Paul Klee, and the
Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in the 21st century.
His ability to tame the enormous scale of Kansai and
Lingotto, to express the spirit of the indigenous Kanak
culture using a thoroughly modern vocabulary in New
Caledonia, and to create exquisite spaces for viewing
art at the Nasher and Beyeler demonstrated the range
of his talents. Throughout this period, Piano never
developed a signature “style,” but the fusion of
engineering with architecture became a guiding
principle shaping all of his work. Another force driving his
work was a collaborative design process that turned
various consultants, fabricators, and contractors into
essential team members. As a result, each of Piano‟s
buildings looked different, shaped by different hands
and responding to different sets of user needs and local
Piano‟s sure hand with spaces for art, in particular those
at the Menil and Beyeler, has brought him a flood of
museum jobs in the U.S., including recently completed
buildings for the High in Atlanta, the Morgan Library in
New York City, and the Los Angeles County Museum of
Art (LACMA), as well as ongoing projects for the Kimbell

in Fort Worth, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney in

New York City, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston,
the Harvard University Art Museums in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and the California Academy of Sciences
in San Francisco.
NY, 2006 LA, 2008


TURIN, 2002









RIEHEN, 1997
The Pompidou Centre in English) is a complex in the Beaubourg area of
Paris. It was designed in the style of high-tech architecture.

the georges pompidou centre for art and culture, Paris (1971-1977)
It houses the Bibliotheque Publique d„Information, a vast public library,
the Musee National d'Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern
art in Europe, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research.
The centre was designed by Renzo Piano and the British architect Richard
Rogers. Initially, all of the functional structural elements of the building were
colour-coded: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate
control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements
and devices for safety(e.g. fire extinguishers) are red. However, this colour
coding has been partially removed, and many of the elements are simply
painted white.
All the functions of the building, including the walkways and the plant
systems, have been moved outside and are characterized to obtain a vast
and totally uncluttered space inside.
The centre with its ‟piazza‟ form a single moulded setting, actively providing
a resource of urban and social functions.
The building is a literally out of the box building. With all the services placed
along the skin of the building, it creates vast space inside for the visitors to
move around freely. But it is not the position of the services and structure
that draws attention but the very idea of „exposing‟ it, raises an eyebrow.
Now it may be a cult statement or a design feature to have services
exposed, but to think of such an idea at time, is unthinkable.
Paris and France have always been on the culture map of the globe. The
then French president wanted a place which becomes a new symbol for
Paris. Paris is over crowded with Romanesque and Gothic buildings and
those built during renaissance. All these buildings were being adapted as
museums to house the vast tangible and intangible culture of Paris, France
and the world in a more broader sense.
The centre, acts as a bold dot into the Paris landscape. The building stands
among the various buildings in and around Paris. One due to its iconoclast

the georges pompidou centre for art and culture, Paris (1971-1977)
expressionism in terms of the architecture style, sometimes classified as „hi-
tech‟ style, and two due to its bright colours, which attract attention.
It doesn't „fit‟ actually to its context, but marks the beginning of the new
context for Paris.
As an afterthought, the idea of having the services exposed on the facade
as well as on the ceiling, reduces the costs of wall finishes, annual repairs
and maintenance.
The turning the building inside out, too is an art. Its just not a decision to just
showcase the services and the structure to increase the movement space
within. It is more of an artistic expression. How the pipes will run along the
building, which colours to go with which one, the positions, their openings
etc are all a part of a well thought design.
The huge open space in front of the building, has become a major public
space for the Parisians. There are people of all age groups that collect in
the space during evenings. There are people giving stand up
performances etc.
The long escalator fitted in a tube acts a s major transition zone. A
transition from the open space outside to another open space inside, with
marked differences. In a zone where one would want to be open and look
out into the city, this tube does exactly the opposite.
To summarise about the building, it is in fact a bold opposite to the
prevailing architectural notions and thought processes. With extensive use
of steel and glass, it makes for a new architectural style for Paris. Though it
heralded a new era of design and construction style and technique, it still
remains one of its kind.
Located on the outskirts of the city of Bern,
Switzerland, the Zentrum Paul Klee, is a
multifunctional space. In addition to the
permanent collection, it also houses temporary
exhibitions, a concert hall, and a centre with
ateliers for children.
With the Alps as background, it is articulated
around three artificial hills: the central hill
containing the exhibition section, the north hill
housing a multifunctional room, the auditorium
and the children´s museum, and the south hill,
has been reserved for research and
management activities.

The majority of the works that form the

museum´s collection are not exhibited,
but are available to researchers. To ensure
the optimum preservation conditions, the
centre is illuminated from the west
façade, through which light is filtered by a
system of translucent screens, creating
softer light.

zentrum paul klee, bern (1999-2005)

The undulating topography of the
adjoining hills inspired the profile of the
steel beams, which swoop and soar like a
rollercoaster, rising from the earth at the
rear to form a trio of imposing arches in
Each rounded vault are linked at the front
by a 150m long glazed concourse
containing the cafe, ticketing, shop, and
reference area.
The structure, which intentionally remains
visible both from the inside and from the
outside, is formed by a series of parallel
steel arches. Steel was found to be only
material to provide an adequate
response to the largely different stresses,
as it allows variations in the plate
thicknesses without changing material
The 4.2km of steel girders were cut and shaped by computer-controlled
machines. The arches are slightly inclined at different angles, braced by
compression struts, and tied to the roof plate and floor slabs. In contrast, the
concrete floors were constructed as a single structure, without settlement joints.
The glass facade is divided into upper and lower sections, which are joined at
the 4m roof level of the concourse, and are suspended from girders to avert
stress from thermal expansion in the steel roof.
The glass is shaded by exterior mesh blinds that extend automatically in
response to the intensity of the light, and the high level of insulation minimizes
energy consumption.
Unlike the previous building discussed, the Zentrum Paul Klee has been
embedded in to the terrain with its gently undulating lines. The three hills made
of steel and glass mirror the topographical features on site and resume them in
such an organic manner that the building and its environment merge into a
"landscape sculpture".
Piano has tried to deal with the form first. With the serene landscape of the
Swiss Alps, he goes for an iconic building. In this building, there is this landmark-
first, function-second attitude. With an iconic shape, the functions of a museum
have been fitted inside the shape.
The functions seem to be out of place in the 3
diminishing arched shaped structures. The bigger of
three is the first attraction. But it houses the subsidiary
requirements such as the auditorium and the

zentrum paul klee, bern (1999-2005)

cafeteria. The second arched building houses the
display. Maybe due to the shape, the display area is
an arrangement of partitions, as there are no walls in
the space.
The third built space houses the administration. The
medium hump leads to this space. There is no exit
from this space but to go through the gallery again.
The building in short suffices all the requirements of
context, form and elevation. But somewhere down
the line it fails to address the issue of function space as
a museum. Also the site has nothing to offer to the
visitors as landscaping or open outside space. Its just
the mountains that are there far away not as a part of
the site.
Renzo‟s work is a rare blending of the art, architecture and engineering with a
dash of intellectuality toped and garnished with classical Italian philosophy
and tradition.
The buildings of Renzo do not show stagnancy in any form of scale, material or
design rather his creations reflect the innovative mind of his matching with the
changing world. Piano follows the ancient code of the architect believing the
full command over the building process from design to the complete build
work. Off course such sensibility and awareness is expected from the
descendent of a family devoted to building profession.
His buildings are not just any tangible creation of bricks, stones, cement, iron
and asbestos but rather epitomes of creativity to the extent of being alive in its
own sense.
Renzo‟s list of creation includes homes to apartments, offices to shopping
centers, museums, factories, workshops and studios, airline and railway
terminals, expositions, theatres and churches, city planning, bridges, ships,
boats and cars. In other words, he hasn‟t limited himself to a particular
typology of buildings.
But sometimes a sense of repetition tends to reflect in his work. But this is
primarily due to the similar nature of programs. He says, “Making new shapes is
not difficult, but I don‟t believe in making up a new architecture every
Monday morning.”
Piano though modern in terms of his architecture, isn‟t too keen in using
modern software on computer. "But architecture is about thinking. It‟s about
slowness in some way. You need time to dream. The bad thing about
computers is that they make everything run very fast.“
He sees, however, a new architectural language developing for the 21st
century. “We understand now that the earth is fragile and our climate is
changing,” says Piano. “Our work needs to be anchored to this
understanding.” When he mentions recent projects, he invariably talks about
buildings that “breathe,” conserve resources, and use less energy.
Being one of the pioneers in „hi-tech‟ architect, and being called a
starchitect, Piano‟s buildings have started becoming more of an iconic
symbol than as a functional space.