Architect Renzo Piano: Biography, Architecture & Buildings

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

I have worked in higher education since 2008 when I began teaching in remedial ed and teach classes in Humanities, Philosophy, and Sociology. I have a Bachelors Degree from the University of Colorado at Denver in Philosophy with a minor in Theater and a Masters Degree in Humanities.

Renzo Piano is an internationally acclaimed architect who focuses on public spaces that promote art and community. Piano's early work is characterized by his literal approach to the importance of community, while his later work focuses on light and space.

Renzo Piano: Biography and Architecture

'When you are in front of a piece of art, it's about the untold; it's about something almost mysterious. There is something coming out, something that causes you to dream or think in a different way. Art and beauty switches on a special light in your eyes. You think differently, almost meandering. This is why art makes people better. It makes people more curious, more demanding. And that's what is interesting about the museum: Just as art makes people better, a building for art makes a city a better place to live.' - Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano Photograph
Renzo Piano Photograph

Renzo Piano was the son of builders in Italy who went on to design museums and public spaces around the world. Piano's work is famous for how he uses space and elements of design to promote the public and the public's interest. From his early work on the Pompideau Centre in Paris to his design of the Whitney Museum in New York or the enormous Church of Padre Pio in Italy, the architect has focused on innovative ways to promote public space and democratic values.

Renzo Piano: Biography

Renzo Piano was born in 1937 to a family of builders and has always seen himself as an architect with a builder's roots. The young Piano was deeply involved in the mechanics of buildings and, from an early age, learned to think about the use of space. He went to Milan Polytechnic to study Architecture and graduated in 1964 and worked with famed architects Louis I, Kahn, and Z.S. Makowsky until 1970. In 1977, Piano's first masterpiece the Pompideau Centre opened in Paris and Piano achieved international acclaim for his work. He has since then designed buildings worldwide and added to or renovated buildings to promote more light and open spaces.

Renzo Piano: The Pompideau, The Whitney Museum, and the Church of Padre Pio

While Renzo Piano is most famously known for museums, he has designed public spaces that include the Shard Tower in Australia, Churches, and Research spaces. Piano is drawn to museums and hired for them because of his philosophy of architecture as in service to the art. His early work reflects this literally in the Pompideau, while his work on spaces like The Whitney Museum do so in less overt fashions.

The Pompideau Centre

The Pompideau Centre in Paris
Pompideau Centre in Paris

When Renzo was young and starting off on his own, he was contracted to develop his first museum in The Pompideau Centre in Paris. Piano believed that architecture served to promote community and shared values and he wanted the architecture of the Pompideau to be one that overtly expressed the value of the art it held for the public. Piano designed the museum so that the guts of the museum were on the outside as though to say 'I am removing anything that could be inside and interfere with the art and putting it out of the way.' As you can see, even the stairwells and escalators of The Pompideau are held on the outside of the structure so as to not break up the space for art even to move through it.

When the Pompideau opened in 1977, many of those attending its opening assumed the Museum was unfinished due to its odd exterior, but Piano received acclaim for his expression of community values in architecture. However, he also received much criticism as the Pompideau's exterior design came at the expense of natural lighting, and the museum must use extensive interior lighting to showcase its art while being closed off visually from the city.

The Whitney Museum

The Whitney Museum in New York
The Whitney Museum in New York

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