If you were to ask someone to name an iconic building in the UK, chances are they’ll mention The Shard. But would they know much about the architect who designed it – or even his name? Renzo Piano is an Italian who was born in 1937 and whose work has consistently pushed the boundaries of modern architecture. He has won many prizes including the Pritzker Prize and the RIBA Gold Medal.
In the 1970s Piano worked with Richard Rogers on the groundbreaking Pompidou Centre in Paris which turned design on its head by making a feature of its colourful, exposed pipework.
He has also designed beautiful, curvy buildings such as the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, Switzerland. Housing the world’s largest collection of Klee’s work it is a light-filled space with an exterior which hugs the landscape like an undulating wave.
In contrast, the Parca della Musica in Rome is a bold statement of a building. The uncompromising shapes of the three large concert halls have earned them the nicknames of blobs, beetles and computer mice! I think they are stunning though and love the fact that there is a fourth outdoor theatre space which echoes the amphitheatres of ancient Greece – a perfect melding of the old and ultra-modern. Piano was also sensitive to the historical nature of the site. When excavations uncovered the foundations of a villa and oil press dating from sixth century BC he delayed construction for a year whilst he redesigned the buildings to include the archaeological remains.
Closer to home, Piano’s Central St Giles development in London, replaced a massive, unloved block of former government offices, with a vibrant, sculptural mix of buildings. The 22 brightly coloured facades, made up of 121,000 glazed ceramic tiles in shades of yellow, red, orange and lime green,were interspersed with recessed glazed walls to make them less imposing. He also added roof terraces and used irregular shapes to help them blend in with the surrounding jumble of buildings.
I’ve picked just four of Piano’s striking projects – if you’re interested in finding out more, he has a great website. Don’t forget to search our online library for Touch to See books on architecture.