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The Art of Glass: Renzo Piano’s Brilliant Glazed Skins

RPBW’s high-tech buildings reach a perfect balance within their cultural fabric.

Eric Baldwin Eric Baldwin

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Italian architect and engineer Renzo Piano is the creative force behind some of the world’s most iconic glass buildings. Piano is known for numerous works, from the early success of the Centre Pompidou to the  Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and the distinctive Shard in London. His firm, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), continually explores ways to push glass to new heights in contemporary projects across the globe.

RPBW is focused on producing high-tech buildings that reach a balance within their cultural fabric. While the firm is renowned for its innovation in design, its work would not be possible without pioneering glass manufacturers that help bring Renzo Piano’s concepts to reality. As you consider how to harness glass for your next project, see how RPBW has utilized glazed façades to shape both individual buildings and the larger urban context:

Paris Courthouse by Renzo Piano Building Workshop Paris, France

Glass façade by RFR

This 525-foot-tall building is a series of stacked glass volumes sitting on an L-shaped site on the northern edge of central Paris. The key idea behind the design of the courthouse was twofold: to reunite all of the judicial institutions, law courts and offices that had been dispersed around the capital, and to provide a cornerstone piece of architecture that would mark the redevelopment of the Porte de Clichy neighborhood.

The rectangular glass volumes are narrow and they reduce in size as the tower rises. Plenty of natural light reaches the interior through the long sides of the building and the double-skin facade. RFR provided the design for the integrated glass façade system that punctuates the skyline.

The Shard at London Bridge, London, United Kingdom

Curtain Walls by Flachglass

Rising 72 stories, this pyramidal glass skyscraper forms the tallest building in Western Europe. The mixed use tower sits adjacent to London Bridge station and houses offices, apartments, retail areas, restaurants, a hotel and spa, and a public 15-story viewing gallery.

The tower’s elegant clear glass skin stretches up towards a single point at the top but several glass facets come apart as “shards”. The curtain wall contractor was Scheldebouw and the glass for the triple glazing system was supplied by Flachglass. The extra-white quality of the glass gives the tower a distinct lightness, reflecting the sky and surrounding context.

The News Building, London, United Kingdom

Glass façade by BuroHappold

Located on the south bank of the river Thames in London and joined by The Shard, this slightly curved 17-story glass office building creates its own character and identity within the site.

The building features a double-skin glazed façade that allows plenty of sunlight to enter the building’s south face. The façade consultant for the project was BuroHappold Engineering, a company which is recognized internationally for delivering creative solutions for building envelopes.

Eighty Seven Park, Miami Beach, FL, United States

A 66-unit ultra-luxury glass condominium, Eighty Seven Park is situated along 8701 collins avenue in Miami Beach. The vertical column of residences rises 17 stories over a 35-acre public park that is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The building acts as a landmark for Miami Beach for its use of extra clear glass within a fluid, suspended floor plate design.

Renzo Piano’s sophisticated, light design is created by the use of floor-to-ceiling glazing that is pushed away from the façade to create balconies and outdoor space equivalent to 70% of each unit’s interior space.

Fubon Tower, Taipei, Taiwan

Glass façade by Thornton Tomasetti

Located in the Xinyi business District of Taipei are three buildings laying across the landscaped urban park. The tallest of three buildings is a 54-story mixed-use tower that houses the headquarters for Fubon Group Taipei. The mixed use tower includes a 5-star hotel and offices as well as a rooftop restaurant and a public garden with views over the city.

The slender, energy-saving tower has a floor efficiency of up to 73.5%. The building skin, engineered by Thornton Tomasetti, was created using low-iron, extra-white glass with a neutral colored solar control coating. Between the double-skinned glass façade there is a cavity system that included motorized blinds that provide smart shading.

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