Millions of tourists visit Italy every year, to admire works of art from the Renaissance or contemplate perfectly preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture. While the old masters rightfully inspire awe in all those who explore the well-known treasures of Rome, Florence or Naples, not many are aware that contemporary Italian architects are currently shaping (or re-shaping) some of the most beautiful corners of the world. Italian creativity is more in demand than ever and four of today’s most celebrated architects hail from Italy. They defined a new idea of architectural beauty that has influenced collective taste all over the world, thus proving that Italian art can evolve beyond its past glories and actively contribute to the contemporary art discourse.
These Italian architects are re-shaping your world
Renzo Piano is probably the first name that comes to mind when thinking of contemporary Italian archistars. He has been proudly carrying the banner of Italian architecture worldwide for decades and is one of two Italians to have been awarded the Pritzker prize. He is famed for his innovative style, that never fails to be as practical and inhabitable as it is stunning to behold. His light structures sometimes seem to defy the laws of physics, with shapes that create a neverending upward tension, as if tons of concrete, glass and metal were nothing but reeds and puffs of smoke. This airy quality is shared by most of his masterpieces, including the Berlin Philharmonie, the Shard in London (currently the tallest building in the EU) and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Every building Renzo Piano designs is destined to become a symbol of the city that hosts it, and to change the face of any city or town that has the honour of accommodating it. Despite being masterpieces of contemporary design, Piano’s buildings are never so abstract as to be unfit for their original purpose, inhabitable, enigmatic or confusing. You will never get lost in a building designed by Renzo Piano, but you will be in awe of the stunning space that surrounds you.
Stefano Boeri is the president of the famous Triennale Foundation in Milan – which is connected to the museum by the same name. Stefano Boeri’s research revolves around a set of hot topics: sustainability, environmentalism, and experimental architectural styles. His most famous project, which you are likely to have seen online at the very least, is Milan’s vertical forest. Despite it not being a landmark, strictly speaking, it is still perceived as one of the most iconic buildings in Milan. Its original purpose was the urban redevelopment and upgrading of the Porta Nuova district, but it ended up being judged the best building in the world by the Council on Tall Build Habitat and winning Boeri the Highrise Award. Vertical forests are currently being built in other parts of the world. The next is scheduled to open in Nanjing and it aims at reducing the city’s CO2 emissions.
Fuksas is perhaps the most controversial among Italian architects of the XX Century. In Italy, he is known for having designed “The Cloud”, a convention centre in the EUR district – which encountered several bureaucratic and financial obstacles before it could be completed. He designed several famous buildings worldwide, including the Peace Peres House in Tel Aviv, the Vienna Twin Tower and the new Terminal at Shenzen Airport in China. Fuksas’ works are a careful study in how to wow the public. He doesn’t want his creations to be admired, he wants them to astonish. Often accused of designing unpractical and impossibly expensive buildings that ignore the social context in which they are placed, Fuksas has always replied with his philosophical idea of what modern architecture should accomplish, in terms of physical representation of the tension between heaven and earth, man and eternity, weight and spirit.
Ettore Sottsass has lived an adventurous and fascinating life. At age 25, he was a war prisoner in Montenegro during WWII and, at the end of the conflict, he got drafted into the last vestiges fascist military forces at Salò, but deserted and fled to Milan, where he opened his first studio. After the war, his wife Fernanda Pivano was largely responsible for translating the classics of contemporary American literature and music into Italian, allowing the Italian audiences to appreciate the likes of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Hemingway and Jack Kerouac. In this beat-generation whirlwind of art and craftsmanship, Sottsass acquired an international perspective on his own art and a vivacious interest in object design as well as architecture (he designed the first Italian electronic calculator and the famous red Olivetti typewriter. Even though he died in Milan in 2007, he is still listed as one of the most influential contemporary Italian architects.