Text and photography by Lee F. Mindel for Architectural Digest.
Piano nobile is an Italian phrase that refers to the main floor of a residence. Literally translated as "noble floor," it is usually set above the entry sequence in a large-scaled space that features tall windows to create a sense of volume and provide views, light, and air. Italian architect Renzo Piano has made what is perhaps the most remarkable piano nobile yet at his masterpiece in London, the Shard. But instead of being on the ground floor, it's at the very top of the tallest building in the European Union.
The Pritzker Prize-winning architect has built some of the world's most beautiful buildings, including the New York Times Building in Manhattan, the Beyeler Foundation in Riehen, Switzerland, the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan, and the upcoming addition to Harvard's Fogg Museum of Art, to name just a few. Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff has quite elegantly said of Piano's works that the ". . . serenity of his best buildings can almost make you believe that we live in a civilized world." From the 87th story of London's Shard, the world is framed by deconstructing fragments of the glass curtain wall that reach out to the city below and the sky above.