piano noble – architect's glossary

The “piano noble” is not a fancy musical instrument, rather it is the “noble floor”.  In a traditional Italian palace, the most important  floors were at least one story above the ground level which was often used for storage or, in Venice, as a rather damp entryway from the canals.

Venetian palazzo

This elevated level for the family’s most impressive public rooms – salons and receiving rooms – allowed for greater views and in urban palaces better access to sunlight amongst the narrow streets.

Villa Savoye by LeCorbusier

For more contemporary houses, not having store rooms and servant rooms to occupy the ground level, the piano noble design places the family’s private rooms on the lower level and grants the upper level to living room, dining room, kitchen etc.  This reverses the typical configuration of the usual house and paradoxically places the most private rooms on the ground floor in the least private location.  It does however, give to the main rooms what might be panoramic views that are available with the additional elevation.  This situation occurs often in Colorado where the mountain views may be blocked at the ground but open dramatically just 12 feet or so up.

The piano noble reverses the usual evening course of living in a multi-level house in that you do not go up to the stars and moon to go to sleep, but rather down to the earth.  For most people the loss of privacy on the lower level in especially urban areas as well as this odd phenomenological reversal of the place of sleep can not be overcome.  But, with good design and sensitivity to privacy issues, I think the piano noble can be very interesting and make for extraordinary houses.


Giovanni Michelucci and Leonardo Ricci


Outside of Florence is an amazing church, San Giovanni Battista all’ Autostrada del Sole built in 1960-64 by Giovanni Michelucci. The building make a strong contrast between its tensile roof and heavy stone base, an allusion to heaven and earth. Michelucci wanted the church to feel tent-like – as the earth is a precarious existence under heaven.

Michelucci’s career spanned early Italian rationalism through to this expressive, poetic later work. What holds consistent throughout that is clear and articulated use of the building’s structure to define the spatial experience.

Michelucci was a strong influence and part-time collaborator with Leonardo Ricci, an instructor of mine, for whom I worked for an all-too-short period in Venice.

The image above is the Palace of Justice in Savona, Italy designed by Leonardo Ricci and Maria Dallerba Ricci.

An upcoming post on Leonardo Ricci and a book of his, Anonymous (20th Century), soon to follow.