Italy's Architects

Renzo Piano

Italy is renowned for its architecture. It is one of the things that keep people coming back to the Country year in, year out and also what draws them there in the first place.

As the novelist, Fanny Burney, famously said “Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy".

From the incredible tombs with their murals, the awe inspiring structures from the Roman period, the imposing towers and castles from the medieval times to the elegant and artistic palazzi from the Renaissance, Italy has it all and each town or tiny village has its own layer of architectural history going back through the ages, with the buildings made up from the local stone, pertinent to each area.

But the Italians are not resting on their laurels from the glories of a past era. They have produced talented and much sought after architects throughout their history to the current day and none more so that Renzo Piano.

Renzo Piano was born 14 September 1937 in Genoa, Italy. His family were builders and his Grandfather had a masonry business, which was expanded by Renzo’s father and uncles into the firm Fratelli Piano. After World War II the business flourished with the rebuilding of houses and businesses together with new constructions. Renzo’s eldest brother took over the business on his father’s retirement. Renzo studied architecture at the University of Florence and Polytechnic University of Milan. He graduated in 1964 with a dissertation about modular coordination (coordinazione modulare) and began working with experimental lightweight structures and basic shelters.

He then taught for a few yeas from 1965 until 1968, and expanded his knowledge and skill set by working in two large international firms. His first building was completed in 1968 and was the IPE factory in Genoa. He designed it with a roof of steel and reinforced polyester.

In 1970, he was given his first international commission, for the Pavilion of Italian Industry for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. His brotherErmanno and the family firm worked with him on the manufacturing side of this lightweight steel and reinforced polyester structure.

This artistic but functional building was greatly admired by the British architect Richard Rogers, and in 1971 the two men decided to open their own firm, Piano and Rogers, where they worked together from 1971 to 1977.

The list of architectural masterpieces from that time and onwards is impressive and fills a number of pages on Wikipedia! They include:

The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (with Richard Rogers, 1977),

The Shard in London (2012),

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (2015) and


He won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998.

Piano became the head of The Renzo Piano Foundation, which is dedicated to the promotion of the architectural profession. He was nominated as Senator For Life in 2013, which is the sole gift of the Italian President with only five office holders at one time. After being presented with this honour Renzo set up a team of young architects called G124 whose mission is to work on transformation of Italy's major cities suburbs. Team members are paid with Renzo Piano senator's salary and change every year through a public selection.

Piano lives in Paris.

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