Renzo Picasso


The Italian architect who dreamed up an American future...

This article, written by TANVI MISRA, appears on City Lab.

An Italian Architect’s Wild American Dream

Renzo Picasso wanted to build seven-layer “superstreets” through American cities.

Renzo Picasso shared his last name with legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and his first name with another, more well-known Italian architect: Renzo Piano.

But Renzo Giovanni Battista Picasso, born in 1880 in Genoa, Italy, was clearly his own man. An inventor, engineer, and designer with a taste for the fantastical, his whimsical and weird ideas reflect what urbanists of a century ago envisioned as the American city of the future.

His father and grandfather, both Genoese architects and urban planners, had made significant contributions to his hometown. But unlike them, Picasso wasn’t bound by geography or tradition. Via the Renzo Picasso archive:

While he had a great love of Genoa, Picasso was truly a “world citizen.” He spent much of his time traveling and exploring the great cities of Europe and America. Upon visiting New York City in 1911, he was deeply impressed by the urbanism and technical innovation of modern American architecture. Deviating from the more conservative styles of his father and grandfather, he produced a large number of visionary drawings and plans depicting the most striking aspects of what he saw, such as skyscrapers, elevators, public transports, and urban plans.

Picasso, who died in 1975, designed several buildings in Genoa, and was loosely associated with the avant-garde art movement called Futurism, which emerged in Italy before World War I. Like the Futurists, Picasso was enthralled with technology, modernity, and the quickening pace of industrial civilization; he loved sketching subway lines and dreaming up wildly impractical conveyances. (Among his many unrealized projects: this fearsome “battling motorcanoe.”) Now, the Renzo Picasso Archive is trying to collect what remains of his plans, maps, designs, and notes. Read more and view the city plans at City Lab…

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