1989 - Renzo Piano 1937 -

Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, New Caledonia

Designer: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Copyright: Nathan Monger/RIBA Library Photographs Collection (1999)

Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, into a family of builders. He studied in Milan, graduating in 1964 before going to work for Louis Kahn in Philadelphia and Makowski in London.

His first important commission was in 1969 to design the Italian Industry Pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka, during which time he met Richard Rogers and they agreed to collaborate and enter the international competition for the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The result was a hundred thousand square metres in the heart of Paris, devoted to the figurative arts, music, industrial design and literature. In 1995, Piano alone renovated the Centre which had suffered from its popularity – it was reopened on the eve of new millennium.


Renzo Piano’s principal work, which he does through his Genoa-based Building Workshop, includes museums, galleries, churches, music parks, institutes, shopping centres, bridges, squares and airports.


His continued interest in lightweight structures was further explored in his De Menil Collection in Houston, Texas which he compares to the Pompidou Centre: ‘Paradoxically, the Menil Collection with its great serenity, its calm and its understatement is far more modern than Centre Pompidou.’ In Noum, New Caledonia in the south Pacific he designed the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, which addresses the difficulties of finding a way to express traditions of the Pacific in modem language. The 10 hut-like structures of the centre, of up to nine storeys, are organised into three villages.


Designer: Piano, Renzo (1937-) Tommaso & Gilberto Valle
Copyright: Sam Lambert/Architectural Press Archive/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1970)

One of his most impressive projects is the airport in Osaka, Japan, for which he had to create an artificial island. It is a structure with undulating, asymmetrical lines and is capable of handling 100,000 passengers a day. In January 1995, Kobe suffered an earthquake. Kansai is the same distance from the epicentre as Kobe, but not one pane of glass in the airport was broken.