THE BRITS WHO BUILT THE MODERN WORLD

Centre Pompidou

Architect

Type

Exhibition building

Built

1977

Location

Paris, France

Out of the 681 entries to a 1971 international competition for a new cultural building in Paris, it was the radical design of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers that was chosen, a win that came as a surprise even to the architects themselves.

The idea of buildings being flexible and spaces infinitely able to be reconfigured to suit new conditions (seen in later buildings such as Rogers’s Lloyds building in London) had its genesis in the pioneering Pompidou, originally known as Centre Beaubourg. 

The architects’ aim was to turn the site of a rundown car park, vacant since the 1930s, into an information centre with public space for the people, where a new type of art space could be experienced by those alienated by the traditional museum or art gallery. 

…it is the most stunning new ‘go-to’ to be seen in any city

Made up of prefabricated industrial components, the five 48-metre by 170-metre floor plates are uninterrupted by structural columns or services and can be adapted for new uses using temporary walls and partitions. The exterior envelope is a steel and glass curtain wall, obscured from the street by a layer of services ie, tubes that hold the circulation spaces and supporting exterior steel frame. This allows for clear floor spaces inside the centre. So instead of the electronic message boards and TV screens on the outside that featured in the original design, animation comes from people walking in the corridors and the movement of the often crowded escalators running diagonally on the façade.

The Centre is a fantastic object in its own right: expressive, colourful, complex, the realization of Modern Movement visions of the building as machine

Horizontal services run under the floor or in the ceiling; all vertical elements run on the outside across the longest façades on the east and west, where circulation spaces or colourful service ducts scale the height of the Pompidou alongside the structural columns and braces. At the shorter south and north sides, the structure is expressed by the trusses supporting each floor. Below ground is space for car parking and storage.

Despite criticisms, budget cuts and political interference, with the help of their team Piano and Rogers saw the project through to completion with their original ideas intact: a piazza, a place for people to enjoy, flexible interior spaces and a simple light structure. The result is one of Paris’s most popular and enjoyed attractions and it redefined what a museum could be.

QUOTES ABOUT Centre pompidou

“…it is the most stunning new ‘go-to’ to be seen in any city.”
Architectural Review, May 1977, p.272

“…the idea of people enjoying the building was always central to the concept…”
Kenneth Powell in Richard Rogers Complete Works - Vol 1 , 1999, p.118

“The Centre is a fantastic object in its own right: expressive, colourful, complex, the realization of Modern Movement visions of the building as machine.”
Kenneth Powell in Richard Rogers Complete Works - Vol 1, 1999, p.118-129

 

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