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 London. 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 giant rectangular building conjured images of a high-tech circus tent. An experiment in prefabrication, the building was shipped to Japan in 15 containers.

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.

early life

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 contexts. 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.













the georges pompidou centre for art and culture, Paris (1971-1977)

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

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.

the georges pompidou centre for art and culture, Paris (1971-1977)

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 expressionism in terms of the architecture style, sometimes classified as „hitech‟ 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.

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.

zentrum paul klee, bern (1999-2005)

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. 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 front. 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 sections.

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 landmarkfirst, 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 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.

zentrum paul klee, bern (1999-2005)

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.


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