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Story - Centre Georges Pompidou
Paris, France, 1971/1977
The decision to build the Georges Pompidou National Art and Culture Centre was made in December of 1969 by Georges Pompidou himself, then President of the French Republic. The international competition was held by the French Ministry of Culture in 1971. The project required the creation of an interdisciplinary cultural institution, which would combine both modern and contemporary art, as well as literature, design, music and film. For this reason, the Centre includes the Public Information Library, the National Museum of Modern Art and IRCAM, the Institute for music/acoustic research and coordination. The building also houses the Centre for industrial design. During an interview with le Monde on October 17th, 1972, Georges Pompidou declared: “I want Paris to have a cultural centre (…) that serves as a museum and a centre of creation, in which the visual arts go hand in hand with music, film, literature, audio-visual research, and so on. Since we already have the Louvre, the museum will naturally be one of modern art. The library will attract thousands of readers who, in turn, will also be in touch with the arts.”
Upon receiving a proposal from the engineering firm Ove Arup, Renzo Piano participated in the competition in collaboration with Richard Rogers (who were partners in the studio “Piano & Rogers” from 1970 to 1977). The competition involved 681 architects, who were selected by an international jury chaired by Jean Prouvé. In January of 1972, Robert Bordaz was nominated as President of the Centre’s public institution and was placed in charge of its construction. The site, known as the Plateau Beaubourg, is located in the Marais district, east of Boulevard de Sébastopol. It had a total surface area of 2 hectares, of which the building would occupy half of the space and the rest would be devoted to the creation of a city square.
The site officially opened in April of 1972 with the first excavations, and the steel structural work began in September of 1974. Meanwhile, the institutions that would be hosted by the Centre Pompidou were decided: the Industrial Creation Centre joined the project in July of 1972 and the relocation of the museum of modern art on Avenue Président Wilson to the site was proposed in 1974. After five years of work, the Centre Pompidou was inaugurated by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing on January 31st 1977, and the doors opened to the public on February 2nd.
According to Renzo Piano, “the building is a spatial diagram. People can decipher it in an instant.” The flexibility of the space was obtained thanks to various design choices: in order to free up the internal space, the utilities, as well as the access and distribution routes, were relegated outside the building. The utilities are positioned along the west façade and have been colour coded (blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity, and red for the vertical air circulation systems). The elevators and escalators have been placed upon the support structure, along the façade, so that the public is directed into channels of movement that are entirely transparent.
Each floor is comprised of a 50m x 170m empty space with an open layout, ready to be setup and equipped for any type of activity. The pedestrian plaza that has been created around the building serves as a “buffer” to the rest of the city. The plaza and the building form a continuous and uniform space, in which the former hosts the spontaneous and unplanned activities. The building has 7 above-ground floors of steel and glass, as well as 3 underground floors that house the equipment rooms and service areas. There is a distance of 7 metres between each floor. The building is an enormous prototype that has been designed “piece by piece” and constructed in an almost artisanal fashion: the steel structure acts like a giant Meccano, in which each element has been designed and built for a specific purpose.
The structure is made up of 14 arches with 13 spans, each with a capacity of 48 meters, positioned at intervals of 12.8 meters. At each floor, at the upper extremities of the centrifuged steel columns, there are die-cast steel “gerberettes” (see The Piece, on main project page) of 8 metres in length and 10 tons in weight. The 45 metre long beams, which distribute the stresses to all of the pillars and are balanced by braces and cross-braces, rest against the gerberettes. The structural hierarchy is clearly visible: each section of the steel profiles responds to the stresses to which it is subjected.
The 1997 Restoration
This place is visited by about 25,000 people daily and over 150 million visitors have passed through its doors over the course of 20 years. Its popularity made it necessary to close the site for 27 months, starting in October of 1997, in order to renovate and expand the public areas. After 20 years, the Centre's activities have been reassessed in light of certain realities: the museum required additional space and the library needed to be rendered more easily accessible. The first important step to making these changes was to relocate all of the offices to an adjacent building. In this manner, the space that was freed up was allocated to the Centre’s primary activities. Today, the fourth and fifth floors house the National Museum of Modern Art, and a portion of the first floor is dedicated to temporary exhibits. The library, which is located on the first, second and third floors, has a separate entrance that facilitates the access.
The main forum has been modified in order to give greater importance to its public functions; a system of elevators and escalators respectively link the forum level (entrance, ticket office, information office, boutiques and bookshops) to the first floor (library entrance and cafeteria) and to the underground level (performance halls). As for the building’s exterior, in addition to the restoration of the façade, which has been restored to its original conditions and colours, a transparent protective canopy was also installed above the main entrance, connected to the new system of entryways. All of the building’s terraces have been redesigned, creating large surfaces of water upon which the collection’s works of art are displayed. The Centre Pompidou re-opened to the public on January 1st 2000.
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