Renzo Piano

Alberto Losano


1. Who is Renzo Piano?

2. Renzo Piano’s themes
2.1 My Architecture
2.2 Genius Loci
2.3 Experimentation
2.4 Language

3. Renzo Piano’s sustainable Architecture
3.1 The Light
3.2 The Air
3.3 The Space

1. Who is Renzo Piano?

Renzo Piano was born in Genoa (Italy) on September 14, 1937. He graduated in 1964 from the school of Architecture of the Milan Polytechnic. As a student, he was working under the design guidance of Franco Albini, while also regularly attending his father’s building sites where he got a valuable practical experience. Between 1965 and 1970, he completed his formation and work experiments with study travels in Britain and America. It was at that time he met Jean Prouvé: their friendship would have a deep influence on his professional life. In 1971, he founded the “Piano & Rogers” agency with Richard Rogers, his partner on the Centre Pompidou project in Paris. In 1977, he founded “l’Atelier Piano & Rice” along with the engineer Peter Rice, a professional personality who would work with him on many projects, until his death in 1993. He then founded Renzo Piano Building Workshop, with offices in Paris and Genoa. Some 100 people work with him (among which architects, engineers, specialists…) in close collaboration with some associated architects, linked to him by years of experience.

2. Renzo Piano’s themes

2.1 “My Architecture”
“This has nothing to do with genius: it is experience. It is exactly the same as the skill of the expert fisher, or mushroom picker, or jazz musicians when they improvise. Artists are not people who have a gift; rather they are people who master a tekné”. “If the spirit of adventure is one of the driving forces in my work, another is certainly obstinacy. Obstinacy and tenacity are very important qualities, whether on the professional plane or the cultural one”. “Perhaps the secret is not to keep your dreams in the drawer. They have to be used. They have to be risked”. “When style is forced to become a trademark, a signature, a personal characteristic, then it also becomes a cage. The effort to be recognisable at any cost, to put your hallmark on things, kills the architect and his or her freedom to develop. The mark of recognition lies in the acceptance of the challenge. And then, yes, it does become identifiable: but by a method, not by a trademark . There is always a temptation for a young architect to start out with style. But I started with doing: with the building site, with research into materials, with the knowledge of construction techniques, conventional and otherwise. My journey through architecture started out from technique and has gradually led me to an awareness of its complexity as space, expression and form “. “Over many years of work I have come to the conclusion that so-called instinct, which is supposed to guide art and creativity, is nothing but a rapid process of synthesis, a turbocharged form of rational thinking. If I look at a plan I am much quicker on the uptake than someone else. I see what is important right away. But use it to attain their objective, which is art”.

2.2 “Genius Loci”
“I believe that the architect must lead a double life. On one hand is a taste for exploration, for being on the edge, an unwillingness to accept things for what they appear to be: a disobedient, transgressive, even rather insolent approach. On the other is a genuine, and not formal, gratitude to history and nature: the two contexts in which architecture has his roots”. “Discipline sets limits to freedom, yet it is also its container: the thing that gives it form. These two elements coexist and interact. In architecture it is the blank sheet that paralyses, not the constraints imposed by the context. The context is a resource; it is material to draw on, a score to be interpreted. Architectural invention cannot ignore history, tradition or the context of construction. It may decide to break with all that, but even then it has to take these influences into account, though in terms of opposition, of overturning”. “Architecture is a second nature that is laid on top of the real one. When people who practice our profession speak of the environment, they ought to remember this. To talk about the sustainability of architecture means understanding nature, respecting animals and plants, siting buildings and factories correctly, making use of sunlight and wind. To interpret the placeform, every project requires a specific study, a deep understanding of its history, geography, geology and climate”. “What interests me is shaping form and product together: forcefully sculpturing the land, leaving a deep mark on the pre-existing nature or urban structure; but, at the same time, making the architecture an accomplice, a partner, imbued with the characteristics of its surroundings”.

2.3 “Experimentation”
“We have to give our profession back its capacity to arouse the emotions by creating dramatic spaces, serene spaces, participatory spaces, secluded spaces. The choice is linked to the function and use of the setting. If you are designing a museum, you offer contemplation. It is not enough for the light to be perfect. You also need calm, serenity and even a voluptuous quality linked to contemplation of the work of art. If you are building a concert hall, it is not enough to provide perfect acoustics: you must encourage participation in the music. If you build a house, on the other hand, what you are aiming for is a sense of protection, of comfort. You have to create a feeling of intimacy and privacy for its occupants, but without excluding the world outside, nature, the city and people. The objectives change each time, but they always turn around the need to stir the emotions. “I believe that is very important to work with the immaterial elements of space and I am fascinated by this research. I think that it is one of the main currents in my architecture. Light, transparency, vibration, texture, colour are immaterial elements; they interact with the form of the space, but are not just a function of it”. “When you’re looking for lightness, you automatically find something else that is precious and that is very important on the plane of poetic language: transparency. Lightness is an instrument and transparency is a poetic quality. In the quest for lightness and transparency, there is a logical and poetic continuity”. “Natural light, often diffused from above, is a constant feature of my work. Light has not just an intensity, but also a vibration, which is capable of roughening a smooth material, of giving a three-dimensional quality to a flat surface. Light, colour and texture are part of a patient work in progress in my studio.

2.4 “Language”
” New technologies are bringing peoples and cultures into contact with an ease that is unprecedented in human history. I believe in the positive value of this possibility. What form will this language take? I can only express my hopes: what I would like it to be and what I would like it not to be. In part, it has to derive from problems that are new or perceived in a new way, such as those relating to the environment. The vocabulary of architecture translates all this into the use of plants, the choice of materials, the application of solutions that save energy. In part, it has to stem from the language of technology and science: the search for contemporary forms of expression cannot be divorced from technical innovation, perhaps the most characteristic trait of our civilisation and the one that has the most influence on the material culture of design. Above all, the new language has to respond to changing needs with a greater attention to the quality of life and work, and an awareness that the inadequacy of housing is the source of much of the malaise in contemporary society”.

3. Renzo Piano’s Sustainable Architecture

The works of Renzo Piano have a big importance for our time. He doesn’t follow formal or theoretical tendencies neither he limits himself into a typical personal language, but his approach is in the same time open and collaborative, in relation with the different sites and times. He interests himself in the phases and
in the techniques of construction as well as in the final form of the building.
The Renzo Piano Building Workshop tries to combine the “genius loci” and the local tradition with the possibility of the new technologies and materials. Though each project pushes the technology until the limits, it exalts and regenerates the historical context and the nature. This is an ecological, evolutionary and humanistic conception of the architecture, looking to the future considering the culture and the context.
In this way Renzo Piano gets closer to the sustainable architecture; every day, “pezzo per pezzo” ,step by step, in continuous and constructive challenges, from the details to the general.

3.1 The light

The first time that Piano gave to the light a particular role was working in the project of a museum of the surrealist and primitive African art collection of Dominique De Menil, sited in Houston. During a trip in Tel Aviv with De Menil, visiting a museum in the same latitude of Huston, arose the idea to make of light the main point of the new musem. The idea grew up and Piano studied a lot of different ways to utilize the zenithal light in the exposition halls. Accurate studies of solar angular condition, the filtering of ultra -violet rays, multiple reflections, ecc. were carried out with an appropriate solar machine. In addiction to these studies, experiments were made with several structural materials that have resulted in an element designed as a “Leaf”, which is a device for modulating both artificial and natural light. The aim of the design was to create a space facilitating a direct and relaxed relationship between visitors and exhibited objects, through the creation of a non-monumental and familiar environment in contact with nature.
Similar ideas to use the natural light were applied in the new building of the Foundation De Menil with the collection of Cy Twombly. More than ten years later Piano tries new ways, also technological, drawing an high tech roof with glass, iron deflectors and tissues for using the sun light.
It was decided early in the design process to make the roof look light in weight as butterfly wings and to have the artworks to be seen in natural light as in the main building, though the annex would have its own distinctive spatial organization. As a solution, several layers of roofing and ceiling materials are used to filter natural light.
First, fixed louvers are installed on the outside to remove direct light and solar heat. Slanting double-layered glass is used as roofing material to keep out rainwater, outside air and ultraviolet rays. Under the glass surface, movable louvers control the amount of the introduced light, and translucent cotton fabric used as the ceiling material in the exhibition rooms that disperses light. Round holes are punched in places in the ceiling material and make an artificial lighting possible as well. As in the main building, light follows a certain rhythm in the time changes. Natural light changes as air and clouds flow outside, and this dynamic quality of light endows the subtle artworks with a variegated appearance.

Other aspects of the utilization of the natural light were developed in some industrial buildings in order to give a good comfort for the work and to cut down expenses. One of the most interesting projects in this area are the Lowara Offices in Vicenza. Lowara is an Italian firm manufacturing electric pumps. Its new headquarter offices are conceived as an open space enhancing contacts among employees at work.
This principle is perfectly represented by an open work place where people can easily cooperate and compare their work without physical barriers.

The adopted assembly system lets the light flow in, thus increasing the sense of lightness of the building. The roofing is supported by a number of V-shaped steel columns. It is completely independent of the existing building. A simple corrugated steel sheet, normally used for bridge building, was adopted for the roof. The steel sheet is used as a form into which the concrete can be poured. It thus became part of the total structure itself and at the same time acted as inside finish to the ceiling. The upturned eaves running along the low elevation that faces the garden help to frame the view of the landscape with a Palladian villa in the background.
The natural light entering the building at this elevation is softened and amplified by the corrugated steel sheeting of the ceiling. Such a gently curving ceiling confers a richer quality on the interior environment. A reflecting panel was inserted into the gap at the top of the roof in order to soften the light coming from the south facing side to make a more pleasant corridor.
For the winter heating the air-conditioning supply duct runs high, thus exploiting the dynamic space created by the suspended form of the roof. The return has been obtained through the raised floor.
In the summer, the conformation of the inner space and the action of the wind on the
cover concur to produce a natural air ventilation for convection and sprinklers have been fitted along the roof edge (key element of the whole project) in order to cool it by evaporation.
An other example of industrial building is the Thompson Optronic Factory.
Thomson had to build a new manufacturing plant in the area of Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines, near Paris. A site had already been designated on which there were no constructions to reckon with; the environment itself was flat, shapeless, and not characterised by any particular vegetation. It was not possible to predict the division of functions with any accuracy; it was not even clear just how big the complex would eventually be, so he had to create a completely open space, a theme with which he was thoroughly familiar.
In this case, the basic module is a large arched element with a span of almost fifteen metres, which produces buildings with soft, curved lines. The interiors provide pleasant working conditions, thanks to the presence of greenery and the extensive use of natural light, also with several “reflection’s games” .
The landscape responds to the fluidity of the construction with the rigor of an orthogonal grid defined by lines of trees and other plants. Thus the buildings are given a logical setting by the ‘frame’ of the vegetation, as if they were placed on a checkerboard. The integration of architecture and nature is based on a respect for the same formal rules: future enlargements will need to do no more than follow them.

The Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Vesina(GE).
This laboratory for research and development of Mediterranean natural structures is a collaboration between the UNESCO and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Indigenous Mediterranean pines and olive trees, bamboo, mescal, corn, indian rubber tree plants and reeds are cultivated here for research purposes: the fiber structures and special properties of these plants are investigated and applied in construction. Studies also include biophysical research, development of inexpensive corrugate sheets, joining laminated lumber with other materials, and stone construction methods and techniques still used in parts of Italy and Spain, the study of earthen walls, brick and other common materials, and the research of new materials. In addition there is the investigation of the effects of -and the application of -acoustic, insulation and lighting techniques.
The site is in the Western part of Genoa, facing the Mediterranean Sea, being naturally terraced, running down a hill from the highway above to the coast line.
Situated along a slope ,the simple lab construction is made of laminated-lumber beams over thin steel. The wall toward the mountain is indigenous stone and earth construction; the three other facades utilize as much glass as possible, creating the illusion that the luxurious greenery growing inside and outside is lifting the roof of the structure above the slope.
The roof construction, comprises double glass, new materials, plastic, insulation panels, reflective cloth panels for indirect lighting; on the exterior a louver connected to a photometer and wind meter senses subtle changes in the climate and constantly adjusts the conditions inside like a living organism. The placement of and research with solar panels is being considered for the future. The interior floor is mainly wood, and Ardesia (black slate) paving from Liguria is used from the interior to the exterior.
The workshop is an immense greenhouse overtaken inside and out by all types of plants and greenery, creating the feeling of a privileged communion with nature. In the same spirit, the trial is to take maximum advantage of the zenithal light that pervades every aspect of local life and has rapidly become a natural clock.

3.2 The Air
J. M. Tjibaou Cultural Center, Numea.
Among the agreements reached in June 1988 by the French government and New Caledonia, on its way to independence, it was decided to build a Cultural Center in the surroundings of Noumea dedicated to the Kanak Melanesian culture and to name it after Jean Marie Tjibaou.
Drawing on a profound relationship with the nature of that civilization, Renzo Piano’s project followed two main guiding principles: on the one hand evoking the skill to “build” with and in the Kanak natural environment, on the other hand combining traditional materials such as wood and stone with modern materials such as glass aluminum, steel and soft advanced technologies.
In Renzo Piano’s words, it is “a work taking care of nature, a humanistic realization where history, architecture, archeology and social sciences are brought together.”The Cultural Center has been set up on a peninsula surrounded by the sea, amidst tropical vegetation. It consists of a series of big shells, ogival pavilions ranging between 9 and 24 meters high, asymmetrically articulated along a main axis.
The central structure links up the various groups of pavilions by organizing the routes and housing the heaviest structures.
The Center, rather than a museum, is very much like a “promenade,”unfolding outdoors as well as indoors. The realization of the cone-shaped structures confirms the close connection between the memory of the Kanak culture and the adoption of modern techniques.
The-curved walls consist of three different diaphragms allowing adequate natural illumination: a system o movable curtains, a wall of laminated wood and an additional bamboo wall filter the light and the sounds of the tropical forest by letting nature “sing.” The big shells trapping the wind obtain natural ventilation from the environment by channeling air in the lower part of the construction and by blowing warm air outwards through a convection system. The performances of the shells have been also studied with every kinds of wind in order to analyze the natural ventilation in each climatic conditions.

High Rised Offices and Residences ,Sydney.
To celebrate the Olympic Games in Sydney in the year 2000 the Australian corporation, Lend Lease Development, initiated and commissioned the design and construction of a commercial tower and a residential building.
The challenge was of a social order: to build a people-friendly environment where residents and employees would cross paths unobtrusively.
The project is comprised of two buildings linked by a glass-covered square which creates an urban microcosm.
The office tower is 200 meters high, rises 44 levels, and encompasses 49,000 square meters. The residential building has 17 levels and faces Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.
A lot of models and computer simulations were made in order to analyze the influence of the wind on the structure, in particular on the tower’s main façade.
The tower was designed to allow integration between the levels, which was achieved in part by the inclusion of winter gardens and terraces.
The design has a built-in ethereal quality making it less imposing on its surroundings. It was important to give it a delicate, free shape, as captured in the shell-like slope of the main facades. The fritted glass “skin” of the building regulates the sun’s rays and wall temperatures, while taking on a homogenous cream-white, ghostly pallor. This glass skin extends beyond the building volume, dissolving its edges, and accentuating the building’s overall lightness.
This exceptionally shaped skyscraper meets the project’s main dictate: to construct a building that, while immense, remains human and hospitable.

3.3 The Space
One of the new concept of the Piano’s space is the sphere.
From when he was young, this kind of form influenced him and he developed this concept step by step, in different kind of materials and constructive systems.
Following this way he arrive to produce his famous “glass-bubbles”, in particular the Lingotto’s bubble,a conference room sited on the top of the building, and the Genoa’s “biosphere”, an exposition area of the Genoese’s ferns. In both the projects a particular attention was given to the internal climate, studying the aeration and the sun influence.
In the summer a natural ventilation will be able to digest the heat by the openings power-operated from an hydraulic principle.
The maintenance of the temperature during the winter period will be guaranteed from one heat pump in a position to exchanging the heat of the water of the sea for feeding perimetrical radiators, placed in correspondence of the expositive level.
The protection from the direct radiation for the ambient inside is guaranteed from particular curtains,to imitation of the nautical sails.


[1] “Renzo Piano Building Workshop . Complete Works. Vol 1”;Peter Buchanan; Phaidon press; 1993
[2] “Renzo Piano Building Workshop . Complete Works. Vol 2”;Peter Buchanan; Phaidon press; 1995
[3] “Renzo Piano Building Workshop . Complete Works. Vol 3”;Peter Buchanan; Phaidon press; 1997
[4] “Renzo Piano, Buildings and Projects 1971-1989”; Renzo Piano; Rizzoli;1989
[5] “Renzo Piano. Progetti e architetture 1964-1983”; Massimo Dini; Electa;1983
[6] “Renzo Piano. Progetti e architetture 1984-1986”; Massimo Dini; Electa;1986
[7] “Dialoghi di cantiere”; Renzo Piano; Laterza;1986
[8] GA Architect .14. Renzo Piano Building Workshop

[Abb.01] Renzo Piano
[Abb.02] Menyl Collection, exterior
[Abb.03] Menyl Collection, interior
[Abb.04] Cy Twombly Pavilion, exterior
[Abb.05] Cy Twombly Pavilion, interior
[Abb.06] Cy Twombly Pavilion, scheme
[Abb.07] Lowara Offices, interior
[Abb.08] Lowara Offices, scheme
[Abb.09] Thompson Optronic Factory, interior
[Abb.10] Thompson Optronic Factory, schema
[Abb.11] Workshop Vesina, section
[Abb.12] Workshop Vesina, details
[Abb.13] Workshop Vesina, interior
[Abb.14] Numea, scheme
[Abb.15] Numea
[Abb.16] High Rised, Sydney, scheme
[Abb.17] High Rised, Sydney, scheme_2
[Abb.18] Bubble Lingotto, Turin
[Abb.19] Bubble Lingotto, Turin, 2
[Abb.20] Biosphera_Genoa
[Abb.21] Biosphera_Genoa, 2
[Abb.22] Bubble,detail


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: