Renzo Piano, the 1998 Pritzker Prize winner, is perhaps best known for his controversial design of the Centre Georges Pompidou, located in the heart of Paris and completed in 1978. Conceived in collaboration with English architect, Richard Rogers and described by Piano as “a joyful urban machine ... a creature that might have come from a Jules Verne book,” Beaubourg, as it is called, has become a cultural icon, expressive of Piano’s love of technology.

Born in Genoa in 1937, Piano comes from a family of builders. Following his graduation from Milan Polytechnic Architecture School in 1964, he worked in his father’s construction company and later was associated with the offices of Louis Kahn in Philadelphia and Z.S. Mackowsky in London. He formed Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1980, which now has offices in Paris, Genoa and Berlin.

Piano is a prolific architect whose wide-ranging repertoire includes a housing complex on the rue de Meaux, Paris (1988-91); the world’s largest air terminal, built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay in Japan (1988-94); the conversion of a 1920s Fiat manufacturing plant in Turin into a multifaceted center for technology and trade fairs (1985-93); and the San Nicola Soccer Stadium in Bari, Italy (1987-90), site of the 1990 World Soccer Championships.

In 1992, he embarked on the $500 million rehabilitation of Genoa’s ancient harbor, a gigantic urban reclamation project conceived in celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. His respect for the character of older cities won him the international competition to develop the master plan for the reconstruction of Potsdamer Platz, which was the center of Berlin’s social and cultural life before World War II ...

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Renzo Piano of Italy is the 1998 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Renzo Piano, a 60-year-old Italian architect who builds all over the world, has been named the 1998 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the prize, the formal presentation will be made at a ceremony hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton at The White House on June 17.

In making the announcement, Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, quoted from the jury's citation which describes Piano's architecture as a "rare melding of art, architecture, and engineering in a truly remarkable synthesis." Piano is the twenty-first architect in the world to be selected for his profession's highest honor which bestows a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion. He is the second Italian to become a Pritzker Laureate, the first being the late Aldo Rossi, who was honored in 1990.

Piano first achieved international fame for the Centre George Pompidou in Paris completed in 1978, a collaborative effort with another young architect from England, Richard Rogers. Since then, Piano has gone on to higher critical acclaim for a much wider range of building types with greater diversity and subtlety that include among many others, the Menil Museum and its Cy Twombly addition in Houston, and the Beyeler Museum in Basel, Switzerland.

On a grand scale, he designed a spectacular soccer stadium for his native Italy in Bari, an eye-popping shopping center called Bercy in Paris that has been likened to a giant space ship that has just landed. Perhaps one of his most remarkable projects is the Kansai Air Terminal, the world's largest, built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay, Japan.

Born and raised in Genoa, Italy, Piano divides his time between a home there and another in Paris when he is not traveling to the many world-wide sites of his projects. He currently is working in Berlin on the Potsdamer Platz redevelopment; in Sydney, Australia on a mixed use tower; in New Caledonia on a Cultural Center; with projects just beginning at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in Foggia, Italy; and other continuing projects in Rome, Paris and Stuttgart.


Pritzker Prize jury chairman, J. Carter Brown, commented, "Renzo Piano's command of technology is that of a true virtuoso; yet he never allows it to command him. Deeply imbued with a sense of materials and a craftsman's intuitive feel for what they can do, his architecture embodies a rare humanism." And from fellow juror, author Ada Louise Huxtable, "Renzo Piano celebrates structure in a perfect union of technology and art." From juror Charles Correa, a much honored architect from Bombay, India, comes the praise, "He brings to each project a great seriousness of purpose, combined with a lyrical understanding of materials (and how they might come together)-so that what emerges is an architecture of extraordinary clarity and finesse." Juror Toshio Nakamura, editor and architectural writer from Japan, said, "Piano's approach to design is always imaginative and inventive, technologically oriented, yet with the hand-crafter's attention to detail. His capacity for architectural problem-solving tempered by a poetic sensibility has made possible his wide diversity of projects, from temporary exhibition halls to the world's largest air terminal, from museums to apartments, and from factories to high rise towers."

Bill Lacy, the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, quoted further from the jury citation which states, "Piano has, over three decades of his career, relentlessly searched for new dimensions in his structures, both literally and figuratively."

Lacy, who is an architect himself and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, added, "Renzo Piano's body of work is reminiscent of the Roman god Janus, represented by two conjoined heads facing in opposite directions, one looking forward, the other backward. This year's Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate embodies that dichotomy. It was appropriate on this occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Prize, to select an architect whose work is such an apt representation of the purpose of the prize."


Read Renzo Piano's Essay

Renzo Piano's architecture reflects that rare melding of art, architecture, and engineering in a truly remarkable synthesis, making his intellectual curiosity and problem-solving techniques as broad and far ranging as those earlier masters of his native land, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. While his work embraces the most current technology of this era, his roots are clearly in the classic Italian philosophy and tradition. Equally at ease with historical antecedents, as well as the latest technology, he is also intensely concerned with issues of habitability and sustainable architecture in a constantly changing world.

The array of buildings by Renzo Piano is staggering in scope and comprehensive in the diversity of scale, material and form. He is truly an architect whose sensibilities represent the widest range of this and earlier centuries-informed by the modern masters that preceded him, reaching back even to the fifteenth century of Brunelleschi-he has remained true to the concept that the architect must maintain command over the building process from design to built work. Valuing craftsmanship, not just of the hand, but also of the computer, Piano has great sensitivity for his materials, whether using glass, metal, masonry or wood. Such concepts, values and sensitivities are not surprising for someone whose father, uncles and grandfather were all builders.

By choosing a career as an architect rather than contractor, he may have broken with a family tradition in one sense, but in fact, he has enhanced that tradition in ways his forebears could only have imagined.

Always restless and inventive, Piano has, over three decades of his career, relentlessly searched for new dimensions in his structures, both literally and figuratively. His early Pompidou Centre in Paris, which brought the first international recognition of his talent and promise, could have been a stylistic end in itself. Instead Piano persevered with unrelenting experimentation that resulted in subsequent works that included the Houston Menil Museum along with its exquisite Cy Twombly addition, and the more recent Beyeler Museum in Switzerland. These three museums show his unerring sensitivity for site, context and a remarkable mastery of form, shape and space.

Piano proved himself a master of the gigantic project with Kansai, the world's largest air terminal in Osaka Bay, Japan, and again with the imposing Bercy Shopping Center in Paris, as well as a massive and beautiful National Science Museum in Amsterdam. His soccer stadium in Bari, Italy is like no other in the world, with its great swaths of blue sky interrupting the usual monotony of stadia seating.

His versatility is displayed further in such projects as the beautiful sweep of a nearly one thousand foot long bridge that curves across Ushibuka Bay in Southern Japan; again with the design of a 70,000-ton luxury ocean liner; an automobile; and with his own hillside-hugging transparent workshop. All of his works confirm his place in the annals of architecture history, and the future holds even greater promise.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize applauds Renzo Piano's work in redefining modern and post-modern architecture. His interventions, contributions, and continued explorations to solve contemporary problems in a technological age, add to the definition of the art of architecture.


Jury Members

J. Carter Brown (Chairman)
Giovanni Agnelli
Charles Correa
Ada Louise Huxtable
Toshio Nakamura
Jorge Silvetti
Lord Rothschild (Juror Emeritus)
Bill Lacy (Secretary to the Jury)

The White House, Washington, D.C.

Although grand plans were originally envisioned by artist and engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant for a presidential residence in Washington D.C., Irish-born architect James Hoban’s more modest design for a refined Georgian mansion in the Palladian style was ultimately selected. The White House was built between 1792 and 1800 and has served as the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams.

In 1801 under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, the White House was expanded with the addition of two colonnades, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe (who would later design the US Capitol). Damaged during the War of 1812, the residence was reconstructed and later the south and north porticos were added. Throughout the twentieth century, improvements and additions were undertaken; however, the sandstone exterior walls are originally from Hoban’s time. Today, the White House is a complex of six floors and over 130 rooms.

Although the White House grounds have had many gardeners through their history, the general design, still largely used as master plan today, was designed in 1935 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm, under commission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize events of June 17, 1998 began with a reception inside the White House with all of the state rooms open for viewing by the guests. The ceremony and dinner followed on the south lawn within a tent that had been erected for the occasion. Speakers included President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, architectural historian and Sterling Professor Emeritus, Vincent Scully, J. Carter Brown, Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury, Jay Pritzker, President of the Hyatt Foundation, and laureate, Renzo Piano.


Read Renzo Piano's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read Jay Pritzker's Ceremony Speech

Read J. Carter Brown's Ceremony Speech

Read Bill Clinton's Ceremony Speech


piano ceremony
President and Mrs. Clinton, Cindy and Jay Pritzker, and Mrs. Piano and Renzo Piano 
Photo by Rex Stucky


Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony