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Renzo Piano 1937 -

Renzo Piano
Renzo Piano © Royal Academy

Renzo Piano is a well known post modernist Italian architect, born in Genoa, Italy in 1937, his style is bold, industrial, high tech and rarely consistent to one type of building language, preferring to build to solve a problem rather than keep to the same style each time, keeping him fresh and dynamic in a demanding architectural market.

His background is from a construction family, with his father owning a masonry business. Completing his study at the Politecnico di Milano - Polytechnic University of Milan

His early career was punctuated by associations with other now successful architects. Richard Rogers teamed up with Piano in 1971 to create their own practice.

One of their first buildings was the Headquarters of B and B Italia, completed in 1973, a lightweight metal framework designed to be able to be flexible in its use and configuration, its design has echos of future building design including the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts by Richard Rogers and Stanstead Airport by Foster and Partners

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Formed on 1981, in Genoa, Italy, the building workshop was named as such to give the impression of experimentation and free thinking to allow all levels of the architectural firms employees an equal say in the design process without the usual levels of hierarchy normally seen at the time in an architectural firm.

Over the years, the firm has grown to include 11 partners and approximately 130 employees completing around 12o projects to date and is ranked third on the Italian architectural website

RPBW has been recognised with a number of awards including those listed below


Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London (1989)

Pritzker Architecture Prize (1998)

RIBA Award for International Excellence, Royal Institute of British Architects (2018)

AIA Merit Award American Institute of Architects New York (2018)

Piano was also the first Italian to be included on TIME magazine’s famous list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World (2006)


Centre Pompidou (1973–1977)

The Pompidou Centre was groundbreaking at the time in the way it reinvented how people perceived what a building should look like and how it should function. It could be argued this was the building that helped launch his career. Using a tensioned external steel structure, it allowed a design to turn the building inside out with traditional service ducting and utility fundamentals placed on the outside of the building for all to see, and using these elements to shape its form and function, leaving internal spaces free to offer more of what the building was constructed for in the first place.

Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, New Caledonia (1991–1998)

Very much in line with the definition of vernacular architecture, Renzo Piano was commissioned to construct a cultural centre in honour of the assassinated political leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou on the archipelago New Caledonia in the Coral sea close to Australia.

As a reference for the core style and structure of the cultural centre was the Kanak cultures chiefs houses, Piano has incorporated the cultural heritage of the Kanak peoples directly into the buildings ethos and has successfully bridged traditional local techniques with modern construction to give New Caledonia a building that has been praised by architects the world over (n.d.). Pittwater Online News. [online] Available at:


Now an essential part of any new modern building, Piano placed green credentials at the top of his design goals, giving the pavilions natural ventilation and cooling through a double layered facade that allows air circulation and also shelter from strong winds that hit the island in the monsoon season

Whitney Museum of American Art 2015

Side Elevation of new Whitney Museum of American Art
Side Elevation of new Whitney Museum of American Art

Renzo Paino's architectural language continues in this post modern new home for the Whitney museum, located close to the Hudson river and the Highline in New York City,

The buildings style and theme is inspired by its location close to Hudson river warehouses, lofts, and the newly renovated and re imagined Highline that was originally a freight line that used to snake around New York's west side.

Its asymmetrical design gives it an external tension to the local area, but also providing 18,000 m column free floor space for the Whitney Museum to showcase the latest contemporary artists around the world

Critics of the building have been muted in opinion but generally positive in its execution, Architectural Critic, Paul Goldberger wrote in Vanity Fair, "The old Whitney, whatever its virtues, had a sternness, especially on the inside, that always seemed to get the better of its virtues. The new Whitney is the opposite. All its faults are on the outside, and you forget them once you get past the front door, when an exuberant, upbeat spirit takes over"

Nast, C. (2015). $422 Million Later, the New Whitney Is Filled With Surprises. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2022].

Centro Botin, Santander (2017)

Origins of this cultural centre was the regeneration of the Santander Waterfront, led by the British construction and engineering firm, Arup, part of the location of the building was previously a car park and disused warehousing

Echos of maritime shipping and nautical themes show through in the concept of this volume, with two rectangular shaped tubes that reflect each other, standing 6 metres above pavement level on tubular stilts which has distant echos of Le Corbusiers Villa Savoye

Carbon steel framing allows a column free exhibition space and with full length glass windows, the internal space is bathed with natural light and allows the visitor unimpeded views across the Bay of Santander

California Academy of Sciences (2008)

The current building was commissioned as a replacement due to the destruction of the previous home of the academy of sciences, in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. The Academy is one of the world leading institutions for scientific research into the natural world and one of the only academy's that house in the same location, an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum as well as research facilities.

The buildings design was centred around being the greenest museum in the world and features a similar conceptual language to the Centre Pompidou by not hiding key structural components including the living roof, featuring a 2.5 acre living rooftop garden and observation deck. Because of the roofs soil content and moisture, thermal inertia comes into play and allows for significant cooling of the ground floor internal spaces below. Continuing the theme of space and light, the support structure and roof beams are designed as slender as possible allowing for as much open space as possible in the public spaces.

Cross Section of the building structure showing the roof garden and effects of thermal inertia below
Cross Section of the building structure showing the roof garden and effects of thermal inertia below © dezeen

The building shows how a well designed structure can blend environment, architecture and landscape into an aesthetically pleasing working and public space that is essential to meet the needs of todays sustainable requirements.

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