A journey to discover some among Renzo Piano most significant works in Europe. Considered the most famous Italian architect, he has always been a pioneer in terms of eco-sustainability and energy saving.
One of the first exponents of environmental architecture, Renzo Piano has never downplayed the nature and environment that gravitate around its projects; indeed, through his art, he has always managed to enhance the landscapes in which his works are included.
The Biosphere – Genoa, Italy
It’s mandatory to begin this journey in Genoa, the architect’s birthplace.
The Biosphere, commonly called the “bubble”, is a glass and steel structure designed by Piano in 2001.
Suspended over the sea, this botanical garden is located in the Old Port area, near the famous Aquarium. It’s home to several species of animals: among the birds you can find the scarlet ibis, zebra finches, the Dominican widows, the amaranth of Senegal and the weaver bird; among the tortoises you can admire the Mata Mata.
The Municipality of Genoa has also provided rare examples of tropical trees. In addition to the ferns, the highest in the world grown in pots, there are plants such as chewing gum, coffee, vanilla, tamarind, cinnamon, banana and other exotic fruits.
The climate is controlled by a computerized system, which constantly checks and regulates the temperature inside the bubble.
The Biosphere embodies the beauty, the complexity but also the fragility of tropical forests. Unfortunately, due to the continuous development of human activities, this biodiversity sees its own boundaries get smaller and smaller.
The Biosphere is open every day from 10:00 to 17:00 (last entry is at 16:30).
Tickets. 5.00€ for adults, 3.50€ for children (aged 4 to 12 years).Il costo di entrata è di 5,00€ per gli adulti e 3,50€ per i ragazzi (dai 4 ai 12 anni).
Centre Georges Pompidou – Paris, France
Moving north-east and arriving in Paris we have to mention the Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as “Beaubourg“.
The building is named after President Pompidou, who, at the end of the 60s, wanted to create in the heart of Paris a cultural center entirely dedicated to modern and contemporary art, together with libraries, design, music and cinemas.
Next to the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe, there’s a public library, a cinema, a theatre, spaces for educational activities, a music center research, a restaurant and a bar.
The building was built in the 70s and designed by Renzo Piano and English architect Richard Rogers. Here the art of constructions is expressed in an unconventional way: the load-bearing structure and the elements that connect the different areas of the building are all located outside.
On the front you can see the stairway and big red, blue, yellow and green tubes. Each of them has a different function: blue corresponds to the air conditioning, yellow to electricity, red and green to water circuits.
Museum and library
The museum of modern art is on the fourth and fifth floors and it hosts works by artists such as Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso and Mirò.
It’s bigger than the MoMA in New York, with more than 50.000 works of art including paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs.
The Bibliothèque Publique d’Information has as its main mission the development of public reading; for this reason it is provided with about 400.000 documents.
The Centre Pompidou is located in Georges Pompidou Square; it’s open every day from 11 am to 22, except on Tuesdays.
The Library is open Monday to Friday from 12 to 22; on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 22.
Entry prices start from 14€.
In addition, from Monday to Saturday (from 9 to 19), you can also book by phone, calling the number +33 (0) 1 44 78 12.
The Shard – London, UK
After crossing the Channel, here we are in London, where Renzo Piano was able to create a skyscraper that can be both elegant, modern and environmentally friendly.
95% of the construction material is recycled, and the position of the mirrors on the surface is designed to make the most out of the light and the wind.
The Shard, with its 310 meters, is the tallest building in London and in Western Europe, second only to the Mercury Tower in Moscow (339 meters high).
Designed by Piano as a sort of vertical city, it is home to restaurants, lounge bars, hotels and luxury apartments that offer stunning views of the metropolis.
44 elevators move at an average speed of 6 meters per second, making the overall journey not exceeding the minute.
Everyone’s destination is The View, the spectacular panorama that can be admired between floors 68 and 72. 12 digital telescopes are able to identify more than 200 historical spots and tell you their story in ten languages.
The Shard is located in London Bridge Street, 32.
It’s open from Sunday to Wednesday from 10:00 to 22:00 and from Thursday to Saturday from 10: to 19:00.
Adult ticket: 29,95£. Children aged 4 to 15: 23,95£.
NEMO – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Once arrived in Amsterdam, near the Central Station, you’ll find one of Renzo Piano’s most curious buildings. It is NEMO, a constructions shaped like a ship that contains the largest museum of science and technology in the Netherlands.
Providing a square on the top of the building, Piano wanted to achieve a kind of panoramic terrace overlooking the city.
Easily recognizable by its dimensions, the building is completely covered in copper, and over time exposure to the atmospheric elements has given it a typical green color.
Inside the walls are dark gray and the windows minimized, to increase concentration during the visit.
The museum allows great interaction with the visitor; it’s suitable for all ages and makes it easier to become familiar with the world of science and technology.
There’re demonstrations of experiments in physics, chemistry and biology which can explain many natural phenomena; there’s an exhibition that allows you to travel through the maze of the human mind; another part of the museum is dedicated to DNA, starting from genetic heredity to discover your own aspect at 80 years old. The section on water is also interesting, explaining how water is purified to become potable.
NEMO is located in Oosterdok 2. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:30.
Tickets: 16,50€ per person.
Museum Astrup Fearnley – Oslo, Norway
Flying North, to Oslo, there’s Renzo Piano’s signature also on the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (in collaboration with natives Narud Stokke Wiig).
The project is made of two buildings: one hosts the temporary exhibitions and the other the permanent collection, that includes works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, Richard Prince, Matthew Barney, Bruce Nauman, Robert Gober and Cindy Sherman.
What distinguishes the building is undoubtedly the curved roof that gives you an idea of union between the buildings, in order to emphasize their interaction with the architecture of the complex. Its curved shape, with the use of wooden beams, also covers the channel that runs between the buildings. The beams are supported by slender steel columns, reinforced by a system of cables that are inspired by the maritime character of the site.
Its surface is made entirely of glass to give brightness and lightness while protecting from the elements.
An integral part of the museum is also the walk of about 800 meters that offers the visitors a visual contact with sea and nature; an important experience of the cognitive journey. Between the museum and the sea there also is a sculpture park, protected from wind and waves, where children and parents can play and swim, enjoying nature and the sea.
Astrup Fearnley Museum is in Strandpromenaden 2 in Oslo.
The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 and on Thursday until 19:00.
Tickets. Adults 13,50€. Students 9€.
Debis Tower, Potsdamer Platz – Berlin, Germany
Moving east you arrive in Berlin, where Renzo Piano designed a building in the iconic Potsdamer Platz.
Until the early twentieth century, the square was the heart of the city and was run over by an architectural renewal process and upgrading of infrastructures that made it very busy. But then a period of decline occurred: the square found itself half-destroyed during the bombings of World War II and was then divided by the Wall.
After the reunification, Potsdamer Platz represented the largest urban area building of Europe: for this reason, it was decided to divide it into four separate areas.
The section purchased by the company Daimler was entirely designed by Renzo Piano; the area owned by Sony was instead designed by Helmut Jahn. Another interesting building is the Kollhoff Tower, which hosts the Panorama Punkt, that offers a breathtaking view.
For years, the site has been a tourist attraction: a giant information office showed the public, in addition to a spectacular panoramic view of the construction site, scale models, films and computer simulations of the future square.
Debis Tower, the one built by Renzo Piano, is 106 meters high with a total of 22 floors, and it is the first building completed in the square.
The building is the highest of all the resettlement around Potsdamer Platz. Piano has avoided the typical German architecture from the early twentieth century, characterized by heavy walls, breaking down the tower into four parallel slabs of different heights and misaligned.
Every wall, external and internal, has been designed with sophisticated ecological solutions. There are glasses that open and close automatically according to indoor climate, making the facades transparent and light.
Immediately after its completion, in 1997, the emerald green cube of Debis has become a new symbol of contemporary Berlin.
Beyeler Foundation – Basel, Switzerland
In 1991 Ernst Beyeler commissioned to Renzo Piano the design of a museum that should have hosted his outstanding collection of modern art.
Beyeler wanted a museum entirely lit by natural light and surrounded by greenery, and nobody but Piano could have turned that idea into reality. In fact, the exterior is mainly made up of large windows, designed to merge art with the surrounding landscape.
The architecture is so bare and essential that visitors can focus on the works of art only.
There are no predetermined paths; everyone can move freely within the exhibition area of 2.700 square meters.
Furthermore, Piano devised an ingenious system for the roof of the foundation, made of a series of adjustable glass solar shading, to control the natural lighting of the rooms and filter direct sunlight.
The Foundation is located in Baselstrasse 101 and is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00.
Admission is free until 25 years of age; for adults the price is 28€ per ticket.
Zentrum Paul Klee – Bern, Switzerland
The Zentrum Paul Klee, located near the city of Bern, is home to more than 4.000 works by the artist; it is one of the largest collections of one only artist in the world.
After the death of Klee’s only child, the family donated a large part of the collection to the canton of Bern, as long as it would have become a museum on Klee.
In December 1998, Renzo Piano was charged with the project. The goal was to create a multicultural center that would reflect the artist’s versatility; in fact, in his life Klee was also a musician, a writer and a teacher.
Opened in 2005, this is an exhibition space of over 4.000 square meters divided into three pavilions, each showing chapter of the artist’s professional career. There’re also an auditorium, some conference rooms and interactive areas for children.
The building is designed as a sculpture that seems to be created by the landscape. Inspired by the surrounding hilly territory, the museum evokes the landscapes of many paintings and drawings by Paul Klee.
Arriving at the museum, the ground and the vegetation gradually cover the building and make it an integral part of the surrounding landscape.
Among the three hills there’s a covered walk, “the museum street“. A place to meet and exchange information, and also a link between the rooms and the educational spaces.
The permanent collection of the works of Paul Klee is exhibited in rotation; at the same time, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions of works from external collections.
The address of the Zentrum Paul Klee is Monument im Fruchtland 3; it is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets. Adults 20€. Children up to 16 years 7€.
Muse – Trento, Italy
Going back to Italy you have to stop in Trento where, on July 27th in 2013, MUSE opened its doors.
It’s the first museum in Italy that bring together nature, science and technology.
MUSE is part of a broader intervention of conversion, always conducted by the Genoese architect, of the former Michelin area. The new district Le Albere is developed on the edge of the old Trento town and near the river. Designed with mixed function (there also are flats, shops, a hotel, a conference center and a public park), it is characterized by meeting places, points of aggregation and it encourages walking.
Once again Renzo Piano was able to create an avant-garde building. The shape fits perfectly into the landscape, recalling the peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Visit the Muse
The visit is meant to be from higher floors towards the ground: from the terrace to alpine landscapes (fourth level), observing the biodiversity (third level) and geology (second level), until the evolution of the landscape over the years (first level). A must is also the rain forest, a large tropical greenhouse dedicated to the rain forest in Tanzania.
The Museum of Sciences by Renzo Piano has an implant system that uses solar energy; tanks have been created for the recovery of rainwater, while a complex automation system guarantees the saving of water, an optimal heating and a natural ventilation and lighting.
Local and rapidly renewable materials have been used in the project, such as bamboo for the floors of the exhibition areas and wood for the structural parts.
MUSE is located in Corso del Lavoro e delle Scienze, 3. It’s open from Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 to 18:00, on Saturdays from 10:00 to 19:00.
Tickets. Adults 10€. Children 8€.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre – Kallithea, Greece
Opened on June 23 in 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center is the first project by Renzo Piano in Greece. It is located on the site of the old racecourse of Athens, in Kallithea.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, one of the largest private philanthropic international organizations, has invested nearly 600 million euros to create a center dedicated to art.
The multidisciplinary nature of the center finds immediate correspondence in the two existing institutions: the National Opera of Greece, with an area of 33.000 square meters; and the Greek National Library of 24.000 sq., in which are stored 750.000 volumes.
The building structure is covered with 5.560 photovoltaic panels, estimated to be able to work independently.
With a weight of 3.500 tons, distributed over 30 steel columns, the roof has a damper system that allows the structure to move under the effect of thermal expansion, wind and atmospheric agents.
Opera and library
A public space, the Agora, allows the entry to both buildings and connects them. The Opera has two halls: one with 450 seats, for ballet and traditional opera performances; the other, with 1400 seats, for experimental performances. Moreover, the library, a place of learning, conservation and cultural transmission, is conceived as a public resource, aiming to be a space for knowledge sharing.
The reading room, fully glazed, is at the top of the building; it’s a transparent box from where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of Athens and the sea.
The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center is located in Kallithea, Leof. Andrea Siggrou 364.
It is open daily from 6 am to midnight.
To access you need to become a member of the foundation
and the prices vary from 50 euros for an adult to 30 euros for those aged from 18 to 30.