Renzo Piano is a famous Italian architect, perhaps best know for his design of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His buildings are a blend of high technology and futurism: producing a unique innovative design style that has made him famous around the world. Let’s discover some of his most iconic buildings!
Renzo Piano’s Life and Career
Born into a family of builders, Piano graduated from the Polytechnic in Milan in 1964. From an interview in the Financial Times, Paino said: “I grew up after the war with this unforgettable feeling that making buildings was pure magic, because from around the age of seven I’d go to my father’s building site and sit on the sand to watch them work,” he says. “There would be no shape, just material, but you would return the next morning to find something solid, straight, vertical and well done. When you grow up this way, you don’t worry too much about what you will do in your life – it is pretty clear, it’s in the blood. But also you come to understand that building is a beautiful gesture. It is the opposite of destruction. It is edification and, in many ways, a gesture of peace, especially when you are creating buildings for people because they are civically important.”
He worked with a variety of architects, including his father, until he established a partnership with Rogers from 1970 to 1977. Their high-tech design for the Centre Georges Pompidou (1977) in Paris, made to look like an “urban machine,” immediately gained the attention of the international architectural community. Colourful air ducts and elevators positioned on the building’s exoskeleton created a vivid aesthetic impression, and the structure’s playfulness challenged staid, institutional ideas of what a museum should be. From a functional standpoint, the position of service elements such as elevators on the exterior allowed an open, flexible plan in the building’s interior. While many complained that it did not fit the context of the historic neighbourhood, the Pompidou nonetheless helped bring about the revitalization of the area when it became an internationally renowned landmark.
In the same article, Piano says he knew he wanted to be an architect by the age of 18. “I will never forget the day I went to tell my father. He watched me for a little while, as he was a man of few words, and finally said, ‘Fine, but why would you want to be an architect when you can be a builder?’ The builder was God in my family and, of course, I eventually became an architect with a big passion for construction. They call this technique, but people fail to realise it is not just the making of things – in ancient Greek, the word is also about the process of invention and creation, and that is what it means to me.”
Piano’s interest in technology and modern solutions to architectural problems was evident in all his designs, although he increasingly took greater account of the structure’s context. His design for the Menil Collection museum (1986; with Richard Fitzgerald) in Houston utilized ferroconcrete leaves in the roof, which served as both a heat source and a form of protection against ultraviolet light. At the same time, the building’s low scale and continuous veranda are in keeping with the mostly residential structures nearby. His other important commissions include San Nicola Soccer Stadium (1990) in Bari, Italy; the Kansai International Airport Terminal (1994) in Ōsaka; the Auditorium Parco della Musica (2002) in Rome; and the Beyeler Foundation Museum (1992–97) in Basel, Switzerland. One of his most-celebrated 21st-century projects, notable for its green architecture, was a new building for the California Academy of Sciences (2008) in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Piano’s projects also included urban revitalization plans, including the conversion of a massive historic Fiat factory (2003) in Turin, Italy, into the city’s trade fair and convention centre district. He designed a number of buildings and additions for cultural institutions, including the Nasher Sculpture Center (2003), Dallas; the expansion of the High Museum of Art (2005), Atlanta; and the renovation of the Morgan Library (2006), New York City. In the latter city Piano also constructed a new headquarters for The New York Times (2007). His attention to context brought acclaim to the Modern Wing, his addition to the Art Institute of Chicago (2009), which he designed to respond to the plans of the adjacent Millennium Park, with its band shell by Frank Gehry and large-scale sculptures by Anish Kapoor (Cloud Gate, 2004) and Jaume Plensa (The Crown Fountain, 2004).
Piano’s design for the Shard (2012), formerly known as London Bridge Tower, was given its nickname—which eventually became its official name—because of its sharply tapered glass facade. The mixed-use building rose 1,017 feet (310 metres) above street level, making it the tallest building in western Europe upon its completion. Towering above the historical skyline of London, it was criticized by some for not conforming to the scale of the rest of the city. Nonetheless, he remained in high demand, especially as the architect of museums. His later projects included the Harvard Art Museum renovation and expansion (2014), Cambridge, Massachusetts; the addition to the Kimbell Art Museum (2013), Fort Worth, Texas; the new building for the Whitney Museum of American Art (2015), New York City; and the long-delayed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (2021), Los Angeles. His portfolio remained diverse, however, and he designed a new building for the Paris Courthouse (2017); a school building (2019) in Shenzhen, China; a residential tower (565 Broome Soho; 2019) in New York, New York; and the Children’s Surgical Hospital (2020), Entebbe, Uganda. Piano also rapidly constructed the Genova–San Giorgio Bridge (2020) in his hometown to replace the Morandi Bridge, which had collapsed in 2018 and killed 43 people.
What is High Tech Architecture?
Renzo Piano’s 10 Most Iconic Buildings
1. Centre Georges Pompidou
The idea for a multicultural complex, bringing together in one place different forms of art and literature, developed, in part, from the ideas of France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, a proponent of the decentralisation of art and culture by impulse of the political power. In the 1960s, city planners decided to move the foodmarkets of Les Halles, historically significant structures long prized by Parisians, with the idea that some of the cultural institutes be built in the former market area. Hoping to renew the idea of Paris as a leading city of culture and art, it was proposed to move the Musée d’Art Moderne to this new location. Paris also needed a large, free public library, as one did not exist at this time. At first the debate concerned Les Halles, but as the controversy settled, in 1968, President Charles de Gaulle announced the Plateau Beaubourg as the new site for the library. A year later in 1969, Georges Pompidou, the new president, adopted the Beaubourg project and decided it to be the location of both the new library and a centre for the contemporary arts. In the process of developing the project, the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) was also housed in the complex.
The Rogers and Piano design was chosen among 681 competition entries. World-renowned architects Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Prouvé and Philip Johnson made up the jury. It was the first time in France that international architects were allowed to participate. The selection was announced in 1971 at a “memorable press conference” where the contrast between the sharply-dressed Pompidou and “hairy young crew” of architects represented a “grand bargain between radical architecture and establishment politics.”
It was the first major example of an ‘inside-out’ building with its structural system, mechanical systems, and circulation exposed on the exterior of the building. Initially, all of the functional structural elements of the building were colour-coded: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements and devices for safety (e.g., fire extinguishers) are red. According to Piano, the design was meant to be “not a building but a town where you find everything – lunch, great art, a library, great music”. National Geographic described the reaction to the design as “love at second sight.” An article in Le Figaro declared “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness.” But two decades later, while reporting on Rogers’ winning the Pritzker Prize in 2007, The New York Times noted that the design of the Centre “turned the architecture world upside down” and that “Mr. Rogers earned a reputation as a high-tech iconoclast with the completion of the 1977 Pompidou Centre, with its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes for mechanical systems”. The Pritzker jury said the Pompidou “revolutionised museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city.”
2. The Shard
The Shard’s construction began in March 2009; it was topped out on 30 March 2012 and inaugurated on 5 July 2012. Practical completion was achieved in November 2012. The tower’s privately operated observation deck, The View from The Shard, was opened to the public on 1 February 2013. The glass-clad pyramidal tower has 72 habitable floors, with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 244 metres (801 ft). The Shard was developed by Sellar Property Group on behalf of LBQ Ltd and is jointly owned by Sellar Property (5%) and the State of Qatar (95%). The Shard is managed by Real Estate Management (UK) Limited.
In 1998, London-based entrepreneur Irvine Sellar and his partners decided to redevelop the 1970s-era Southwark Towers following a UK government white paper encouraging the development of tall buildings at major transport hubs. Sellar flew to Berlin in the spring of 2000 to meet the Italian architect Renzo Piano for lunch. According to Sellar, Piano spoke of his contempt for conventional tall buildings during the meal, before flipping over the restaurant’s menu and sketching a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames.
In July 2002, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, ordered a planning inquiry after the development plans for the Shard were opposed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and several heritage bodies, including the Royal Parks Foundation and English Heritage. The inquiry took place in April and May 2003, and on 19 November 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced that planning consent had been approved. The government stated that:
Mr Prescott would only approve skyscrapers of exceptional design. For a building of this size to be acceptable, the quality of its design is critical. He is satisfied that the proposed tower is of the highest architectural quality.
Renzo Piano, the project’s architect, designed The Shard as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames. He was inspired by the railway lines next to the site, the London spires depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, and the masts of sailing ships. Piano’s design met criticism from English Heritage, who claimed the building would be “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London”, giving the building its name, The Shard. Piano considered the slender, spire-like form of the tower a positive addition to the London skyline, recalling the church steeples featured in historic engravings of the city, and believed that its presence would be far more delicate than opponents of the project alleged. He proposed a sophisticated use of glazing, with expressive façades of angled glass panes intended to reflect sunlight and the sky above, so that the appearance of the building will change according to the weather and seasons. The building features 11,000 panes of glass, with a total surface area of 602,779 square feet (56,000.0 m2) equivalent to the area of almost eight Wembley football pitches.
The Shard was designed with energy efficiency in mind. It is fitted with a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, operating on natural gas from the National Grid. Fuel is efficiently converted to electricity, and heat is recovered from the engine to provide hot water for the building. Following the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center (WTC) in the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, architects and structural engineers worldwide began re-evaluating the design of tall structures. The Shard’s early conceptual designs were among the first in the UK to be amended following the publication of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report into the collapse of the WTC. The building is designed to maintain its stability under very onerous conditions, with its post-tensioned concrete and composite floors, load-bearing pillars, and tapering shape giving it a sway tolerance of 400 millimetres (16 in). In 2014, The Shard claimed first place at the Emporis Skyscraper Awards, recognising buildings over 100 m (328 ft) completed in the previous twelve months. The Emporis judges hailed the building as “a skyscraper that is recognized immediately and which is already considered London’s new emblem”.
3. Tjibaou Cultural Centre
Now sixteen years after the completion of Renzo Piano’s Tjibaou Cultural Center, the transformative economic effect of this project on the city of Nouméa has been no less dramatic than that of any opera house or museum of greater renown. Since the Center’s completion, New Caledonia has found itself in the international architectural spotlight, as the graceful, ephemeral design of the building’s iconic shells has brought fame and business in equal parts to its island and to Piano’s firm. Whether the New Caledonian government ever intended such to bring so much attention to the island became largely irrelevant after they selected Piano as the winner of an invite-only international competition in 1991. Its objective was to solicit ideas for a center that would celebrate the Kanak culture native to New Caledonia, and in the process, smooth over ethnic tensions that had been chronically deteriorating between the Kanak people and the island’s other inhabitants. That it would orchestrate an international talent search to recognize its local culture was a source of irony and criticism, made even more poignant by the historically strained relationship between the Kanaks and the ever-encroaching influence of modernization.
At the core of the commission’s purpose was the long, complex, and often confrontational history between the Kanak people and New Caledonia’s European-descended rulers. The island of Grande Terre, which was colonized by French settlers early in the nineteenth century, had endured nearly two centuries of natural resource exploitation, cultural oppression, and long periods of Kanak enslavement. In the late twentieth century, the island underwent a protracted and varyingly bloody independence movement on behalf of the Kanak people led in part by Jean-Marie Tjibaou, for whom the Center is named, until his assassination in 1989. It was in this context that the project was conceived as a long-overdue recognition to a marginalized culture and given funding by the French government.
Politics aside, however, it is easy to understand what the jury saw in Piano’s elegant design and how it became an object of esteemed international recognition. Sensitively using traditional Kanak chiefs’ houses as a starting point, the architects manipulated and deconstructed their form to create a monumental sequence of rounded, airy shells. Ten of them stretch along the hillside, varying in height from 20 to 28 meters and casting a commanding presence over the Pacific shoreline. Within and between them, a carefully choreographed procession of museum spaces takes visitors on a journey that weaves back and forth between intimate indoor enclosures and the surrounding island landscape. Like the Kanak architects before them, Piano’s concept emphasizes the influence of site and environment as determinants of design and performance. The form of the shells negotiates a blend of traditional construction methods and a tapered, dematerializing profile that beautifully plays off the texture of the surrounding trees. Exterior voids worked into the plan and fenestrations in the building envelopes physically open the project to the site and deepen the inhabitants’ sense of place. An intelligent passive ventilation system removes the need for air conditioning, making the building’s clean, natural air supply an experiential part of the Center’s design. Even the interrelationship of building clusters, arranged in a layout similar to the grand allée plan of traditional Kanak villages, is dependent on a continuous stream of movement between enclosed and exterior spaces.
The effect is organic and eye-catching. A beautiful incompleteness about the shells illicits seemingly paradoxical perceptions of a work-in-progress and a work-in-ruins that is nevertheless deeply satisfying. Idealistically, perhaps these incomplete geometries reflect the sentiment that Kanak culture is continuing to grow and evolve from ancient roots, even as new conditions require it to adapt its form.
Yet, for all of the contextual sensitivities of the architects, inevitable inconsistencies pervade the design. A fundamental disconnect between the technological sophistication of the structures and the traditional craftsmanship exhibited within them illustrates a conceptual problem that undermines the Center’s tenuous sense of heritage and identity. This is an unintended but nevertheless fitting theme given the commission’s complex political context, and one that is never completely resolved through architecture. It has been proposed that the Center’s technology acts as a mediator between conflicting cultural messages, design impulses, and systemic objectives, but this is likely only an optimistic reading of an irresolvable and somewhat distracting conflict. Ultimately, these unresolved sociopolitical issues may be the price of the “Bilbao Effect,” wherein even the greatest and most celebrated foreign designs cannot completely bridge the gap between the architectural standards of international competitions and the sense of regional appropriateness so demandingly required by cultural centers. Yet, to say that Renzo Piano’s effort at Nouméa is admirable would be a serious understatement; as an example of formal creativity and technological skill, the Center is no less than one of the finest and most advanced projects of its time.
4. Zentrum Paul Klee
The Zentrum Paul Klee is a museum of modern art and an exhibition center in Bern primarily, yet not exclusively, dedicated to the Swiss artist from whom it takes its name. The museum’s building, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and which aspect is inspired by the hilly landscape encircling the city of Bern, is easily recognizable for its wavy metal roof, upon which lawns and agricultural fields have been planted with the aim to achieve a complete union of art and nature, coherently with Paul Klee’s artistic vision and philosophy.The Zentrum Paul Klee houses a permanent collection of over 4,000 artworks by Paul Klee. The pieces are usually displayed on a rotational basis, in semi-temporary thematic exhibitions that often combine works by Klee with those by other artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Sigmar Polke, Alexander Calder, and Henry Moore, to name a few. Piano conceived the building of the museum as a “landscape sculpture”, inspired both by the surrounding hills and by the concept of an ideal union of art and everyday life that underpins many of Klee’s works, such as his 1929 painting Monument im Fruchtland (Monument in the fertile country) with its stylized pattern of cultivated fields.
Visitors approaching the museum are invited to walk around it, to appreciate how the building combines with the vegetation in a harmonious whole. Such a strict relationship between architecture and landscape is not just visual: the soil covering the museum’s roof is indeed regularly sowed, cultivated, and harvested by the Swiss College of Agriculture and a local farmer, and provides a good amount of organic crops.
The load-bearing structure of the museum is composed of a series of curved metal ribs that create the iconic undulating, wavy roof for which the building is famous. The three rolling ‘hills’ are connected by a covered pathway that runs along the entire length of the western façade. Because of the complex geometric curvature of each piece of the undulating roof covering the structure, the steel beams were individually hand-welded. The resulting complex sculpture appears to sew the landscape together and flow alongside the cultivated fields that surround it. The steel and glass facade of the building faces west and is equipped with shading devices in textile, partially fixed and partially motorized, which filter natural light into the interior. For Klee’s watercolors, canvases and drawings to be properly preserved, they require a luminosity of between 50 and 100 lux, so artificial light is filtered onto them through white screens.
5. Whitney Museum of American Art
Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the Whitney’s building in the Meatpacking District includes approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. An expansive gallery for special exhibitions is approximately 18,000 square feet in area, making it the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. Additional exhibition space includes a lobby gallery (accessible free of charge), two floors for the permanent collection, and a special exhibitions gallery on the top floor.
Mr. Piano remarked in 2011, “The design for the new museum emerges equally from a close study of the Whitney’s needs and from a response to this remarkable site. We wanted to draw on its vitality and at the same time enhance its rich character. The first big gesture, then, is the cantilevered entrance, which transforms the area outside the building into a large, sheltered public space. At this gathering place beneath the High Line, visitors will see through the building entrance and the large windows on the west side to the Hudson River beyond. Here, all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.”
The dramatically cantilevered entrance along Gansevoort Street shelters an 8,500-square-foot outdoor plaza or “largo,” a public gathering space steps away from the southern entrance to the High Line. The building also includes an education center offering state-of-the-art classrooms; a multi-use black box theater for film, video, and performance with an adjacent outdoor gallery; a 170-seat theater with stunning views of the Hudson River; and a Works on Paper Study Center, Conservation Lab, and Library Reading Room. Mr. Piano’s design takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form—one that responds to the industrial character of the neighboring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence. The upper stories of the building overlook the Hudson River on its west, and step back gracefully from the elevated High Line Park to its east.
A strength of Piano’s Whitney is its clear organization: galleries on the south side, curatorial and support spaces on the north, and an exposed precast-concrete core running through the middle that contains vertical circulation and mechanical ducts. Elevators face the main entrance on the ground floor and, as in the Breuer building, open directly onto the galleries upstairs. It will be hard for anyone—even the navigationally challenged—to get lost here.
Stabilized laterally by its concrete core, the building uses a steel frame for vertical loads and required cross bracing only at the southwest corner. RPBW wrapped most of the structure in vertical ribbons of 0.3-inch-thick 3.3-foot-wide steel, which curve subtly at the edges where the body of the building tucks in, such as along Gansevoort Street at the large cantilever that protects the main entrance to the museum. Resting on slender steel columns and enclosed on the ground floor by glass on three sides, the building seems to hover above Gansevoort. The lobby’s ceiling angles up to greet the High Line next door, adding to the streamlining effect of the vertical ribbons and cantilevered torso above the entry. “I wanted the building to fly above the street,” says Piano.
6. Auditorium Parco della Musica
Parco della Musica is a public music complex in Rome, Italy, with three concert halls and an outdoor theater in a park setting.During construction, excavations uncovered the foundations of a villa and an oil-press dating from the sixth century BC. Renzo Piano then adjusted his design scheme to accommodate the archaeological remains and included a small museum to house artifacts discovered, delaying the project’s completion by a year. Parco della Musica was inaugurated on 21 December 2002. Within a few years it became Europe’s most-visited music facility. In 2014, it had over two million visitors, making it the second-most-visited cultural music venue in the world, after Lincoln Center in New York.
This project is a multipurpose complex devoted to music that further enriches the city’s vast cultural heritage. Made up of three ‘music boxes’ of different capacities (2,800, 1,200 and 700 seats) and features, which seem to hover over the surrounding vegetation, as well as of an outdoor amphitheater for 3,000 spectators, the scale of the project made its construction impossible in the dense historic center of Rome. The site chosen lies outside the central area in the plain separating the Tiber River banks from Parioli hill, between the Olympic Villa, built for the 1960 Games, and Palazzetto dello Sport and the Flaminio Stadium designed by Pierluigi Nervi. The discovery of the remains of an old Roman villa allowed to strengthen the relationship with the place, though it forced the building work to stop until the archaeological excavation was totally finished.
The peripheral location of the project had the advantage of being capable of managing large movements of people, thanks to the existing infrastructures nearby. Furthermore, building on this site meant doing so in a space that had become, already a long time ago, a sort of artificial fracture and, in this way, the auditorium was a healing element for the urban tissue.
Be them giant insects or inverted mandolins, the three shells lend themselves to metaphor. The roof consists of a lead cladding that rests on a mixed structure of laminated wood beams and steel ribs, and its amoeba-shape contrasts with the strict geometry of the brick walls that delimit the halls. Each one of them (conceived as true musical instruments) has specific qualities and feeds on the experience on acoustic issues gathered by the office in previous projects. In both architectural and structural terms the halls are separated from one another in order to improve their acoustic behavior. The two smaller ones follow an orthogonal geometry, while the larger one adopts a polygonal scheme, which evokes Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic Hall in the way in which the boxes almost hug the stage, centering the position of the orchestra pit. This large auditorium will be used for symphony concerts; to achieve optimum acoustic conditions huge ‘cushions’ hang from the ceiling, their role being to break up the sound. As for the medium and small halls, both have mechanical systems that allow moving seats, ceilings and stages, giving them a great versatility to adapt to the requirements of the musicians.
7. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a museum in Los Angeles, California constructed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which is devoted to the history, science, and cultural impact of the film industry. It is the first large-scale museum of its kind in the United States. The museum is located in the historic May Company Building on the intersection Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, part of Museum Row on the Miracle Mile.
In 2012, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected Renzo Piano to lead the design of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1998, Piano founded the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) in 1981. With offices in Genoa and Paris, RPBW is known locally for the western expansion of the LACMA campus. Piano and his team have a stellar portfolio of international projects, including The Shard in London, Osaka’s Kansai International Airport Terminal, and the Whitney Museum in New York.
Built of concrete, steel, and glass and selectively fitted with new limestone sourced near the building’s original quarry in Austin, Texas, the Saban Building retains the character of the original Wilshire façade. The iconic gold half-cylinder at its southwest corner comprises 350,000 gold-leaf mosaic tiles, a third of which have been replaced with new tiles from Orsoni, the original manufacturer of the building’s tiles in Venice, Italy. On the opposite façade, a new glass curtain wall shifts the focus to the Sphere Building to the north. The façade of the new Sphere Building is encased in curved architectural concrete panels, with a veil of glazing and articulated steel stairways. Curved steel tubes rise above the concrete, with the secondary struts and bracing creating a tensioned gridshell structure that supports the domed glass roof constructed of 1,500 flat, laminated, shingled glass panels comprising 146 different cut shapes. The roof’s glass was sourced from Saint Gobain in Steyr, Austria, and the dome’s fabricator and installer was Gartner, of Gundelfingen, Germany. Pedestrian bridges connect the Sphere Building to the Saban Building at the mezzanine and fifth-floor levels.
Each column of the restored Saban Building was originally created by pouring concrete into a wood mold formed around each of the structure’s steel beams. Today, these elegant pillars remain, each subtly imprinted with the wood-grain pattern of its formation. Revealing this original wood-mold construction has become one of the many touchstones of Piano’s vision.
8. Central Saint Giles
Central Saint Giles is one of London’s more colourful mixed-use developments and one of the largest in the West End. Occupying a pivotal position linking four of Central London’s best-loved destinations; Bloomsbury, Covent Garden, Soho and Fitzrovia, Central Saint Giles offers high quality dining to its visitors.
The development is in the district of St Giles, one block south-east of the east end of Oxford Street. The area was once notorious for being one of the worst slums in London, known as the Rookery – a maze of ramshackle houses, alleys and courtyards inhabited by thousands of destitute people. It was famously depicted by William Hogarth in his 1751 print Gin Lane. Central Saint Giles stands on the site of St Giles Court, an office development erected in the 1950s for the Ministry of Supply and latterly used by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It consisted of a linked series of brick blocks, six to eight storeys high, arranged in an S-shape around two courtyards to which there was no public access.The development was built on a speculative basis on the assumption that the office space would be taken by a handful of major corporate tenants. Legal & General’s commission urged Piano to avoid designing a “plain vanilla office building” and called for the new development to be “a fantastic place for people to work”.
“The architectural challenge was to create a development that brings heart and soul into this rich part of London’s urban fabric. The high level of transparency and accessibility will make this not only a great place to work, but a great place to work together.” – Renzo Piano
Architectural reviews, in 2010 and 2011, thus contemporary, were mixed. The Observer’s critic Rowan Moore called the development “a Marmite building … which passers-by either hate or love”. He compared it to “a B-movie … in which giant mutant chewy sweets have, following a radioactive accident, invaded the world.” Nonetheless, he rated Central Saint Giles as “one of the better” of the recent wave of commercial-civil developments in central London, calling it “dignified and refined, and the talk of transparency and openness is genuine.” He praised the “beautiful precision” and complexity of the ceramic façade, citing its “depth and richness” and the “judgment in their precise tones”.
9. Vulcano Buono
Vulcano Buono is the multifunctional complex located in the municipality of Nola, near the CIS, designed by the archistar Renzo Piano and inaugurated in 2007. The shopping center rises on a total area of 500,000 square meters and recalls, in its design, the geological structure of the nearby Vesuvius, reproducing not only the shape but also the integration within the surrounding natural context. Inside the structure – with 94,000 square meters of GLA – there is a Holiday Inn hotel, a The Space Cinema with 9 screens, a gallery on 2 levels with 160 stores and a parking lot with 8,000 parking spaces.With its large circular square of over 20,000 square meters, which recalls the Neapolitan Piazza del Plebiscito, Vulcano Buono is confirmed as a reference destination and a Shopping Center and for the entire surrounding area.
The architectural aspect of the building consists of a set of solid circles, each of them having a different slope, which fuse to form a volcano-structure which imitates the look of Vesuvius. The upper edge of the volcano-like structure has a height that varies from 25 to 41 meters, with a total diameter of 320 meters. The central square of 160 meters in diameter is divided into three concentric zones, the internal with a stage dedicated to shows and concerts, the medium reserved to the shops and the external zone that crowns the building consisting of a large park filled with pine trees.
From the outside, except for the five different entrances (called Capri, Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano and Ischia), the building is practically invisible as an architectural work as the reinforced concrete roofs are covered with soil, grass and bushes, effectively hiding the structure. The project started in 1995, and works began in 2002. It was completed in 2007 at a cost of 180 million euros, partly covered by regional funding for reconstruction and development. The entire establishment occupies an area of approximately 500,000 m2 (5,400,000 sq ft), the floor area is 150,000 m2 (1,600,000 sq ft), and there are parking lots for 8,000 cars. The building hosts the largest photovoltaic roof system in Europe.
10. Parliament of Malta
Piano’s building, located just inside the entrance to the city, is separated into two pavilions – one containing the debating chamber, the other ancillary offices and committee rooms. Both are limestone boxes sitting above glazed ground-floor entrance foyers set back behind their steel column porticoes and joined by a high-level steel bridge. The project extends beyond the parliament building itself in a complex urban design exercise that has encompassed the neighbouring city walls and gate and the ruins of the capital’s opera house just to the south which was bombed in the Second World War (the city’s strategic harbour was one of the most bombed places in history) and never rebuilt. The pavilions each present a face parallel to Republica Street but the divide between the two is drawn at an angle and allows views through to the St James Cavalier bastion.
The building’s most striking feature is the stonework cladding that has, in parts, lent it a pierced or fretted appearance. The laser cutting of blocks, so that they kick out at an angle rather than sitting flush, allows glimpses of the interior and filters strong sunlight. The stonework is load-bearing at lower levels but becomes a screen to a steel frame higher up the building. The placement of the openings suggests an abstracted or pixellated map of Malta and Gozo. It is an unusual device. Malta has an Arabic element to its heritage witnessed culturally in its Semitic language but only rarely present physically such as, perhaps, in the winding alleys of Mdina, the walled citadel inland that was once the capital. The projecting balconies enclosed by timber and glass found all over the island may also be a cousin of the latticed mashrabiya of the Islamic world, but there is no evidence of the Moorish tradition in the pierced stonework screens.