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A black and white self-portrait by Renzo Piano

Great Masters | Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano (portrait)

The partnership between Renzo Piano and Piero Castiglioni arose in 1983 with the “Alexander Calder” retrospective exhibition, held at the Palavela, Turin. This project marked the beginning of their business relationship.
“Ideally, I’d like a space with fixed 150-200 lux and the possibility of freely increasing it where and when needed. Light should also be used to give the space rhythm, alternating between a lot or a little. The standard should be qualitative.” (1)
Dialogue between Renzo Piano and Franco Raggi.

Archive photo of the Renzo Piano Foundation(1983 – Italy – Vesima – Renzo Piano Foundation – Photo courtesy: Renzo Piano Building Workshop / Fondazione Renzo Piano)

“The critic and exhibition director Giovanni Carandente staged an important spectacular event with the help of architect Renzo Piano – that of the Centre Pompidou – and lighting ‘magician’ Piero Castiglioni.”(2)
The set-up of the “Alexander Calder” exhibition in Turin marked the beginning of a collaboration between the two young men, Renzo Piano and Piero Castiglioni. The Palavela, designed in 1961 by the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, was the chosen venue. Normally used for sporting activities, the space was transformed and reinvented. The large windows were covered with reflective aluminum panels painted dark blue on the inside and the large vault ceiling was painted dark blue to create a cavernous effect. Electric light became the protagonist of the exhibition. The lighting fixtures for the exhibition panels were specially designed and handcrafted for this event: the works were illuminated by little “stem lights”, equipped with low-voltage halogen bulbs, placed on the upper part of the panels. The large mobiles suspended from the vault and the fixed items positioned on the ground in the center of the space were all lit from above by spectacular blades of light from spotlights with controlled optics and equipped with 1000 W Thorn metal halide sources.

Renzo Piano and Piero Castiglioni consult each other during a project(1983 – Italy – Turin – Renzo Piano and Piero Castiglioni – Photo courtesy: Shunji Ishida)

  • 1985 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto: “Confindustria Congress”
  • 1986 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto, Convention Center
  • 1988 – Francia – Lyon – Cité Internationale
  • 1989 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto: “Russian and Soviet Art 1870 – 1939” – Exhibition
  • 1990 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto – General interior lighting, exhibition spaces
  • 1990 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto: “Andy Warhol” – Exhibition
  • 1991 – Italy – Turin – Lingotto: “American Art 1930 – 1970” – Exhibition
  • 1992 – Italy – Genoa – International Expo 92
  • 1992 – Italy – Genoa – Porto Antico

The Ancient Port of Genoa(1992 – Italy – Genoa – Porto Antico – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)

“The air is full of ancient feelings. Surrounded by large tropical ferns, one wanders through a timeless world, like any old dinosaur.” Renzo Piano (3)

The Biosphere of Genoa, a project by Renzo Piano(1992 – Italy – Genoa – Biosfera – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)

In celebration of the fifth centenary since the discovery of America, the city of Genoa redeveloped the old harbor area, connecting it to the historic center. This urban renewal refurbished and renovated the existing buildings and added new structures. These included the big aquarium and the glass biosphere, whose 20-meter diameter houses one of the largest collections of ferns in the world to represent our planet. A polished slate floor, immersed in a forest of large tropical ferns, animated with butterflies and small reptiles accompanies visitors. Recessed luminaires, equipped with compact fluorescent lamps, illuminate the interior spaces. Flood optics and low-voltage sources enable a suitable distribution of light on the vertical planes for the exhibition, dining, and meeting areas. In the center, a large metal chandelier-like structure hangs at a height of thirteen meters. This houses controller optics spotlights and reproduces the chiaroscuro effect of daylight filtering through the foliage of the tall forest.

  • 1995 – Italy – Lodi – Banca Popolare di Lodi
  • 2001 – France – Paris – Centre G. Pompidou: “Renzo Piano un regard construit”
  • 2002 – Italy – Lodi – Banca Popolare di Lodi – Auditorium

Overall view of the Auditorium of the Banca Popolare di Lodi(2002 – Italy – Lodi – Banca Popolare di Lodi – Auditorium – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)

“The Banca Popolare di Lodi strongly represents the city and the leading idea is that this complex, complete with Auditorium, will enter into city life as a place of gathering and cultural exchange.” Renzo Piano (4)
The project transformed the old Polenghi-Lombardo factory into a new urban site. The auditorium, located at the center of the complex, is connected to the main unit by a glass marquee delineating the large, covered pedestrian plaza.
The Auditorium hall is a veritable example of “acoustic architecture”.
“The materials chosen for the interior were tiles and wood, both for their acoustic aspects and formal consistency… The most innovative technical and aesthetic element was the large acoustic “cloud” reflectors suspended at the top of the hall. These are huge white globes (with metal structures covered in plaster), which prevent sound focusing, eliminating obstacles in the hall’s circular layout. Not only illuminating, they allow bouncing light to fall, thus also playing a role as evocative light diffusers.” (5)
Stage-like spots with halogen lamps (100/200W) were anchored to metal rods and arranged around the perimeter: this choice brought together the devices needed for both the general lighting of the hall and stage lighting during shows and concerts, creating an image consistent with powerful spectacular effects.

  • 2002 – Italy – Turin – Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli
  • 2003 – Italy – Rome – Archaeological Museum
  • 2003 – Italy – Rome – Auditorium (foyer)
  • 2004 – Italy – Foggia – Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

The Sanctuary illuminated at night(2004 – Italy – San Giovanni Rotondo – Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina – Photo courtesy: iGuzzini)

View of the facade of the Sole 24 Ore headquarters(2005 – Italy – Milan – Headquarters of Il Sole 24 Ore – Photo courtesy: Vieri Bottazzini)

  • 2007 – Italy – Nola – Vulcano Buono Service Center

The night lighting of the Vulcano Buono service center(2005 – Italy – Nola – Vulcano Buono Service Center – Photo courtesy: RPBW)

“The project defines a modern interpretation of cooperation. We don’t want to build a sad old shopping center but rather, a plaza where the empty space is the element of encounter between people.” Renzo Piano. (6)
This urban and landscape intervention reconsidered the natural morphology of the volcano, creating an immense crater to house the village in the Nola plain. The artificial hill is characterized by Mediterranean vegetation and a pedestrian walkway leads to the businesses, interior plazas, and various services. The shopping mall, a two-level commercial gallery with a ring layout, is lit by daylight entering from above. A hotel, multiplex cinema, wellness center, superstore, 25 catering venues (bars and restaurants), and 160 shops spread along the route overlooking the large central plaza. The “crater” area is also designed to host artistic and cultural events, shows, and demonstrations. The lighting project followed the guidelines of the architectural plans and used the typical lighting fixtures of commercial and urban spaces, emphasizing the citadel image.

  • 2010 – England – London – St Giles
  • 2013 – Italy – Trento – MUSE – Science Museum

External view of the MUSE illuminated at night(2013 – Italy – Trento – MUSE – Science Museum – Photo courtesy: iGuzzini)

“Museums are often perceived as dark places of shadow, but they actually work much better when they are places of light. When everyday life, exchange, and being together become confused with learning. The building is already a kind of journey. The light, in relation to the outside world, is a very important element in all directions. It ensures that the building belongs to a place. Biodiversity and the complexity of nature are celebrated by this complexity of space. A bright, open, and accessible building that uses little energy is a complicated challenge, arising together with scientists. It’s emotionally important to challenge the force of gravity, making everything fly, creating an idea of lightness by making even the whale fly.” Renzo Piano (7)

  • 2000 – Suspension lamp “Le Perroquet” for iGuzzini – Renzo Piano

Le Perroquet designed by Renzo Piano for iGuzzini(2000 – Suspension lamp “Le Perroquet” for iGuzzini – Photo courtesy: iGuzzini)

The only lighting fixture designed by Renzo Piano arose for a specific project. It was patented and sold by iGuzzini in two different sizes.
“Le Perroquet was the lighting fixture created by Renzo Piano for the renovated spaces of the Beaubourg area (1977 project) in 2000. To direct light onto the signs and display panels, he conceived of a traditional camera, where the lens contains the optics and the body contains the mechanisms. This led to the creation of a lamp suspended on two steel cables of adjustable height. The component compartment is separate from the optics compartment and the balancing point between the two is designed like a parrot’s perch; hence the name “Le Perroquet”. Small-bodied versions of “Le Perroquet” were installed in the bar, cafeteria, gift shop, and book shop areas, also with halogen bulbs but with different optics and output to create accent lighting.” (8)

Renzo Piano receives the Pritzker Prize(1998 – United States – Washington – The White House – Renzo Piano – Pritzker Prize- Photo courtesy: Rex Stucky) (9)

“Renzo Piano, Pritzker Prize winner in 1998 and senator for life, is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, a recognition made as part of the first edition of the Italian Architecture Prize 2020, organized by Triennale Milano and the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Art, sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism”. The announcement was made live on Thursday 18th June by Giovanna Melandri, President of the MAXXI Foundation, Stefano Boeri, President of Triennale Milano, and Margherita Guccione, General Manager for Contemporary Creativity at MiBACT.

(1) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Renzo Piano and Franco Raggi
(2) Flaminio Gualdoni, Il Giorno, 26th July 1983
(3) Genoa Congress Center website: https://portoantico.it/en/activities/biosphere/
(4) Laura Dubini, Corriere della Sera, 23rd December 2002
(5) Renzo Piano, Giornale di Bordo, 2005, Passigli Editori, Florence
(6) Piero Castiglioni: http://www.pierocastiglioni.com/projects/16/ce
(7) Interviews: Artribune – Renzo Piano presents the Muse – 27th July 2013
Muse – Science Museum seen by Renzo Piano – 2nd October 2013
(8) Courtesy Chiara Baldacci
(9) The Pritzker Architecture Prize website https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/1998

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