A Biographical Interview with Pritzker Prize Winning Architect, Renzo Piano

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Widely known for his masterpiece buildings like The Shard, Centre Pompidou, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, and the Auditorium of the Park, Renzo Piano has become one of the known master builders of our time – we featured him in our list of 40 most famous architects of the 21st century. In this biographical interview published by the Louisiana Channel he speaks to Marc-Christoph Wagner at his offices in Paris, France, about his life and what moments have led him up to this point.

In the very interesting discussion, he acknowledges the influence of his father, who was a builder, on his choice of the architectural profession. When he was around 7 or 8 years old, he could go to his dad’s building sites preferring to spend long days there as opposed to being in the quiet countryside. Over time, being an architect became his one major desire. Italy was rebuilding majority of its towns after the world war, a time when Renzo was growing up. This influenced how he looks at architecture to present day; it is a sign of peace.

Some of the lessons he has learned in life as an architect have come from travelling. He advises young architects to travel a lot. The opportunities to get new perspectives by going away from what you do daily, learning about people, different cultures, and new languages will help young architects appreciate more where they come from – he says he learnt to appreciate his Italian origin when he traveled and saw what other countries are like.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop has grown in size from the firm’s initial founding years. In fact, Renzo says he doesn’t know how many people there are exactly who work at the firm. However, he has been working with some of his associates for more than 40 years now.

When you talk about craftsmanship in architecture, Renzo Piano has to come up somewhere. Craftsmanship, he says, is a total sum of being a good builder, having the best technical ability, and being a good architect in it’s core definition. When you design civic buildings, you have to be good because you are building social spaces for communities.

It is the capacity to create emotion; something poetic and beautiful. However, he argues, architecture requires you to be so many people in one day. He tells of his normal days as jumping from being a poet who sketches in the early morning, to being a builder, social animal, budget manager, finance expert, psychologist, and teacher in no particular order. The days are never constant; never are the roles either.

While emphasizing on the importance of ethics in a firm, Renzo also delves deeper into the recent love for computers in architecture. “Computers are a bit stupid,” he says. “You have to tell them where to go.” The point is that computers need your brain to function, and most times you will need your brain and your hands to think for you before you can tell the computer what to do.

Touching on the topic of legacy and why he hasn’t been a teacher at any university, the Pritzker Prize winner attributes this to his busy schedule. However, owing to that, he has created a foundation fully funded by the firm to advance people’s ambitions and make their lives better. Additionally, his way of teaching is through apprenticeship where the firm takes 20 interns from around the world every year, and adopts them into the firm for a period of time where they get to understand architecture by doing. They have been doing this for 15 years, which translates to 300 architects to date who have gone through this system and benefited from it.

To the young architects, his message is simple:

Architecture is about making a better world, put as much beauty as you can grab into space.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.