“Was it true glory? Time will end the arduous doubt” said Alessandro Manzoni about Napoleon Bonaparte in his famous poem “Il Cinque maggio”. But this is true for any great man who tries to make a mark in the history: only those who come after will be able to judge with due detachment. And this is even more true in the arts, where momentary trends might lead to big awards while the artist is alive but might inexorably forget his works once time allows a correct evaluation.
For this reason, it is very difficult to decide which are the greatest Italian contemporary architects: in the last fifty years, many Italian architects have been dominating the Italian and international scenes, deserving to enter our top five list. In the end, we have chosen five artists and we hope you will agree with us; if not, there is always space for your comments at the end of the article!
Born in Genova in 1937, Renzo Piano is without any doubt the greatest contemporary architect. His awards speak for him: he won the prestigious Imperial Japanese section in 1995, the Pritzker Prize in 1998, the Sonning Prize, the Compasso d’Oro, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and dozens of other awards around the world.
He studied in Florence and Milan and travelled in the United States and Great Britain, where he met his colleague Richard Rogers. The real breakthrough in his career came in 1971, when he and Rogers won the competition to design the new Centre Pompidou in Paris, which immediately became the manifesto of the so-called high-tech architecture.
Among his works, we can list the Old harbor of Genoa and the aquarium, the Stadium of Bari, Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the Kansai International Airport in Osaka and the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, the London skyscraper The Shard (the highest in Europe), the New York Times Tower in Manhattan, the new Palace of Justice in Paris and the skyscraper Intesa Sanpaolo in Turin.
An architect who died prematurely in 1997 due to a car accident, and perhaps for this in part today unjustly forgotten, Aldo Rossi is the only other Italian with Renzo Piano, who won the Pritzker Prize, in 1990.
Born in 1931 in Milan, Rossi approaches the post-modenism in reaction to the rationalism of his era, creating controversial works, as the Monument to Sandro Pertini in Milan and the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. What is memorable of Rossi is his theoretical contribution with essays, articles and exhibitions.
The Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht
Born in 1927 in Friuli from a family of southern origins, Gaetana Aulenti graduated from the Politecnico of Milan in the early fifties and started soon to adhering to neo-liberty and cooperating with many magazines.
She restructured the Orsay Museum in Paris, the National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona and Piazzale Cadorna in Milan.
Orsay museum in Paris
Ettore Sottsass, Italian-Austrian architect, known not only for his architectural achievements, but also for his work in industrial design. He graduated from the Politecnico of Turin and moved to Milan, where he started working with the Olivetti, drawing many electronic products. He collaborated with Alessi and founded the Memphis group, creating furniture, chairs and bookcases, which are now hosted in the best museums in the world (some of them are in permanent collection of the MoMa in New York). Form an architectural point of view, he realized various private homes in Italy and abroad, in addition to the interiors of Milano Malpensa airport.
The Acme House, Maui
We decided to close our top five with Massimiliano Fuksas, very famous in Italy and known throughout the world for its achievements.
Born in Rome in 1944, he began working in Italy together with Anna Maria Sacconi, seeing his fame progressively growing throughout Europe, up to the realization of the University Brest and Limoges, the Vienna Twin Tower, the Fiera Milano Rho-Pero, the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa in Tel Aviv and various projects still in process as the new Congress Centre and the skyscraper Piedmont region of Turin, which should be opened this year.
Le Bolle, Bassano del Grappa