He is the only Italian architect to have won the prestigious Pritzker prize, known as the Nobel prize for architecture, presented to him in 1998 by Bill Clinton at the White House. And that’s not all: he was the first Italian to be included on the famous annual Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people. In 2013, he was nominated senator for life of the Italian Republic. He is, of course, Renzo Piano, the Genoese architect, not to say starchitect, even though he doesn’t like being described in that way. Famous for his visionary and experimental style, Piano is known throughout the world. But what are Renzo Piano’s most famous projects? We will now present Renzo Piano’s work through his most representative architectural designs.
Renzo Piano’ most famous works
In a career of more than 50 years, Renzo Piano has created dozens and dozens of works in various countries around the world. Listing them all here would be impossible: here are some of the architect’s most representative works.
This survey of Renzo Piano’s works begins in France, in the heart of Paris, with the famous Centre Pompidou. This is the first work by the Genoa architect of international renown, designed with Richard Rogers in 1971. The Centre National d’Art et de Culture, completed in 1977, is one of the world’s most visited museums of modern and contemporary art. The anarchic and libertarian structure, as designed by the two architects, then in their thirties, was hailed as a futuristic work. An enormous symbol of hi-tech architecture, so different from the buildings that surround it and, indeed, from any other building, especially at that time. The Centre Pompidou has been likened to a man who, after shedding his skin, bares his internal structure.
From 1971, at the start of Renzo Piano’s international career, to 2018, the year he presented the design for the new bridge of the city of Genoa. A sensitive project, designed to replace the Ponte Morandi after the dramatic collapse of 14 August 2018. Constructed by the Webuild Group and completed on 3 August 2020, the new Genoa San Giorgio viaduct is 3500 feet long, 101 feet wide and 147 feet high. Built with a structure made of a mixture of steel and concrete, it has 19 spans and it is supported by 18 elliptical-shaped piers. A particular feature of the bridge designed by Renzo Piano is the deployment of 4 mobile robots that, moving along the rails placed on the outside of the bridge, monitor the condition of the bridge. The architect imagined this viaduct as a thin ship, launched at a height of 131 feet, a bridge that would be “simple and sparing but not banal”.
A building in red porphyry with a bright horizontal roof in glass, which rises in the midst of a stupendous green garden. Built between 1991 and 1997, the Basel Museum of Art brings together works by Cézanne, Monet and Van Gogh, and is itself a work of art, designed by Renzo Piano.
Back to Genoa. Here, Renzo Piano renovated the old port and transformed it into a cultural centre on the Mediterranean. The works continued from 1988 to 2001 and involved many different interventions. The Bigo metallic structure, with its panoramic lift, and the Bolla, a museum that brings a little of the rainforest to Genoa, stand out. The Bigo – which owes its name to its similarity to the “bighi”, the cranes used to load ships in the port – has become one of the city’s new symbols.
Any list of the works of Renzo Piano cannot fail to mention the work carried out for the regeneration of the former Fiat factory in Turin. The site now boasts a commercial area, a cinema, a university, a trade fair centre, a hotel, a panoramic hall and an elevated track for testing cars. The cherry on the cake is certainly the auditorium, 32-foot deep with cherry wood cladding to ensure stunning acoustics.
Parco della Musica Auditorium
The Ennio Morricone Auditorium, as it was named in 2020, in Rome’s Flaminio district, was designed by Renzo Piano and built by the Webuild Group. Inaugurated in 2002, the multifunctional complex covers an area of more than 164,000 square feet. There are three main buildings, that is, the three concert halls of different sizes, arranged radially around an open-air theatre. The latter, the Cavea, can accommodate 3,000 spectators. A Roman villa was unearthed during the works, the findings from which were later exhibited in small museum in the foyer behind the Cavea.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The partnership with the Webuild Group continued with the construction of this futuristic cultural centre in Athens, not far from the sea in a park in the Kallithea district. Like an enormous flying carpet about to take off, the building is remarkable for its great environmental sustainability. It hosts the National Greek Opera, along with the National Library. The steel structure covered with cement and solar panels, lying halfway between the thousands of white Athenian houses and the Mediterranean, is completed with an agora. This meeting space has a lot in common with the Roman Cavea referred to above.
The MuSe is the Science Museum in Trento, a zero gravity structure that rises to six storeys (each floor smaller, like a pyramid). Inaugurated in 2013, this is one of Italy’s most visited museums. The MuSe stands in the residential district of “Le Albere”, designed by Renzo Piano: all the buildings here seem to want to imitate the peaks of the surrounding mountains, with audacious glass roofs. One of the main aims is energy saving, ensured by the ample use of photovoltaic panels and geothermal probes.
Tjibaou Cultural Centre
Another entirely original and unmistakable project by Renzo Piano is the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Built in Nouméa on the island of Grand Terre in New Caledonia, it is dedicated to the culture of Kanak people and, for this reason, adopts the forms of traditional Kanak architecture. In all, the cultural centre is made up of 10 circular pavilions that are inspired by the shape of the houses of the Kanak clan chiefs. With heights of between 65 and 92 feet, these evocative buildings were constructed in iroko wood, plywood, steel, glass and aluminium.