Renzo Piano Gold Medal
In receiving the AIA's highest honor for an individual, Piano joins such influential masters as Walter Gropius (Gold Medal 1959), Alvar Aalto (1963), Norman Foster (1994), and Tadao Ando (2002), among many others.
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Piano was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1937. His father was a builder, and during Piano's studies at the Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture, he frequently visited his father's construction sites. A friendship with engineer Jean Prouvé influenced the young architect greatly, including the suggestion to attend the École des Arts et Métiers in Paris, a school of arts and crafts with a hands-on approach.
In the late 1960s, while in his early 30s, Piano traveled in the United States and Britain, teaching at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, and working in Philadelphia with Louis I. Kahn and at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1971, Piano and Richard Rogers won the design competition for the Centre Georges Pompidou, completed in 1977. The famously "inside-out" building exposes its mechanical systems outside of its glass facade, freeing interior spaces for maximal flexibility. With its signature cross-bracing and colored tubing, the art museum has become a modern Parisian landmark.
Piano and Rogers also designed IRCAM (1977), an acoustic research institute that is part of the Pompidou complex.
The Pompidou Center reveals key elements of Piano's approach. His buildings combine a simplicity of the whole with a richness of parts. They tend to be fairly direct at the plan and section level, and simple in overall form and massing. Adding a structural expressiveness to these forms are such details as sunshades and brackets.
Looking back on the Pompidou project, Piano has said, "We were young, quite impolite bad boys," according to Newsweek, November 7, 2005. Since then, his projects have generally been less brash, but no less bold in terms of innovative design solutions. The later works show subtlety and refinement — profoundly beautiful and elegant designs that are no less driven by engineering and craftsmanship.
Throughout his career, Piano has worked closely with engineers, particularly the international firm Arup and engineer Peter Rice (until his death in 1992). As Lisa Ashmore reported in ArchitectureWeek No. 266, Piano has said of his focus on engineering and construction: "It's not because I believe that technology is more important than everything else, I just believe that there is a poetry of making things. And beauty also comes from the well-crafted bearing of a building."
Piano founded his firm, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), in 1974, with offices in Genoa and Paris. He has designed a wide variety of projects with the firm, including factories, shopping centers, houses, even cruise ships.
The Rue de Meaux Housing (1991) in Paris exemplifies Piano's ability to bring together innovation and exacting craftsmanship with knowledge of the technical aspects of the production of buildings to achieve new and successful results. The appeal of the building's terra cotta cladding brought a durable surface material back into popularity, while revealing its potential for frank elegance, in contrast to neoclassical applications that often disguised the material.
The sweeping curves of Kansai International Airport (1994), located on an artificial island in the Bay of Osaka, Japan, echo the surrounding waves and create a sense of whimsy inside the building. The design of the roof arches was informed by research on air circulation.
For Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, a former location of the Berlin Wall, Piano designed a 1992 master plan for new development, which was completed in 2000. RPBW also designed eight of the 18 new buildings, unified by a familiar material: terra cotta.
During the 1990s, Piano also received two of the top international architecture awards. In 1995 he received the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association, and in 1998 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The corporate headquarters and store for Hermè Japan opened in Tokyo's Ginza district in 2001. A curtain wall of handmade glass blocks encloses the 15-story building. "Piano's central idea was to create a 'magic lantern,' with light evenly spread across its entire volume, softly illuminating the district" at night, as Mahoko Hoffman wrote in ArchitectureWeek No. 114.
Master of Museums
Piano is increasingly known for designing museums and art galleries, including the Menil Collection Museum (1987) in Houston, Texas; Beyeler Foundation Museum (1997) in Basel, Switzerland; the Nasher Sculpture Center (2003) in Dallas; and the 2005 expansion of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
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