december 14, 2006
  Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, Selected for 2008 AIA Gold Medal

by Tracy Ostroff
Associate Editor

Summary: The AIA Board of Directors Selected Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, to receive the 2008 AIA Gold Medal. The Board praised Piano for his sculptural, technically accomplished, and sustainable forms, which have delighted the public and critics for more than 30 years.

Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, whose humanistic approach to architecture and urban design has delighted the public and critics for more than 30 years with forms that are beautiful, sculptural, technically accomplished, and sustainable, was selected December 13 by the AIA Board of Directors to receive the 2008 AIA Gold Medal. The Gold Medal recognizes an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Piano will be presented with the medal at the 2008 American Architectural Foundation Accent on Architecture Gala in February at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you—I have to drink some champagne! America is my second home and now it feels even more like home to me,” Piano said, upon learning news of his award via a telephone call to his Paris office from AIA President RK Stewart, FAIA, and the rest of the AIA Board. “I will do my best to deserve this honor.”

Piano leads the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which produces award-winning architecture that blends sensitivity to context with technical prowess to create a distinctive design aesthetic. Piano came to be regarded worldwide for the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, completed in 1978, a collaborative effort with Richard Rogers. Since founding the Workshop in 1974, Piano has been critically acclaimed across his diverse portfolio of building types, including the Menil Collection Museum in Houston, the Kansai International Airport in Tokyo, and the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in Foggia, Italy, earlier in his career, and later the Potsdammer Platz in Berlin, the Cultural Center in Jean-Marie Tjibaou in New Caledonia, Maison Hermes headquarters in Tokyo, and Aurora Place in Sydney. Piano’s more recent projects include the Chicago Art Institute expansion, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the New York Times Building in New York City, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Design in Philadelphia.

His body of work, nominator and client Raymond Nasher said, is “broad and deep, broad in terms of the variety of projects, from smaller scale private facilities to immense public projects, as well as its widely based influence on ideas and practices, expanding even into urban planning and the theory and application of green architecture; and deep in regard to the overall, aggregate impact he has had on the profession.”

Close collaboration
Piano divides his time between his Genoa and Paris offices, working with some 100 architects, engineers, and specialists in the close atmosphere of collaboration that characterizes the Workshop.

“His work is executed with integrity and an abiding awareness that architecture is the beautiful intervention that seams nature with technology,” wrote Tom Howorth, FAIA, and Kira Gould, AIA, on behalf of the AIA Gold Medal Committee and the Committee on the Environment, respectfully, in their letter nominating Piano for the Institute’s highest individual honor.

A fusion of form and function characterizes his training and experience, first as a student at the Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture, where Piano first studied under Franco Albini, while at the same time visiting his father’s building sites, which provided the young architect with the opportunity to gather practical experience to complement his academic training. Later influences included Marco Zanuso, Buckminster Fuller, Konrad Wachsmann, and Jean Prouvé, who encouraged Piano to enroll in the Ecole des Arts et Metiers in Paris. In 1971, Piano founded the Piano & Rogers Agency with Richard Rogers, his partner on the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Beginning in 1977, Piano began his close collaboration with engineer Peter Rice.

His personal honors are numerous, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998, the RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture in 1989, and a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in London, and many other tributes from organizations and governments in the many countries in which he has worked. He has also served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Architecture.

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Piano becomes the 64th AIA Gold Medalist, joining the ranks of such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson (1993), Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Louis Sullivan (1944), LeCorbusier (1961), Louis Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), Cesar Pelli (1995), Santiago Calatrava (2005), and last year’s recipient, Edward Larrabee Barnes. In recognition of his legacy to architecture, Piano’s name will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Renzo Piano Portrait, © Gianni Berengo Gardin © Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
1. Jean-Marie Tjibauo Cultural Center, Noumea, New Caledonia, is an AIA Honor Award recipient
2. The Menil Collection, Houston, one of Piano’s 16 projects in the U.S.
3. Home of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, designed and built by the architect in Genoa
4. Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, San Giovanni Rotundo, Italy
5. The New York Times Building, New York City, with Gensler, is nearing completion.

Photos courtesy of the architect.