In1971, a competition for the design of a Cultural Centre for Paris was won bythe architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. The competition brief called forthe provision of one million square feet to house a museum of modern art, areference library, a center for industrial design and a center for music andacoustic research. It was hoped by the sponsor of the competition, this being theFrench Government, that by collecting these activities in one facility,exchange between these disciplines and between culture and commerce could takeplace. Interpretingthe program through modern sensibilities (seeking to cut across socialdivisions and embracing advanced technology and electro-communications), the architectssought to design a building which synthesized the four specialized activitiesand the city, and directly engaged the general public. The resulting design isa machine, blatantly expressed as such. Composed primarily of networks;structural, mechanical, circulation, the Centre Pompidou is a machine for synthesisand assimilation. The visitor and the art inhabit the machine. Themechanical systems become the primary reading of the Pompidou Centre.
Itsstructure, while it is highly legible, is a visual backdrop for tubes ofvarious mechanical functions which include:1.HVAC2.Electrical3.Plumbing4.Escalators for vertical circulation ThePompidou Centre, characteristic of non-traditional architecture, rigorouslyexploits all productive forces of this age, assimilating them into itsarchitecture. This includes:1.Implementation of a rationalized structural system which is entirely dependentupon advanced structural analysis involving computers and heavy industry. Thesehave been instrumentalized for determining the size and shape of structuralmembers in the design process as well as controlling the fabrication process.
2.Exploitation of specialized materials and the industrial capabilities of manynations. Examples of this are the ‘toughened’ glass used for the enclosure ofthe passarelle, the escalator tubes which are attached to the structure alongits western face, and the fabrication of the stainless-steel lattice girders inGermany.3.Electronically monitored environmental controls including, window blinds whichprovide “local solar control and black-out facilities.”1 Thestructure, an articulated skeletal frame, is light and open and visuallyprominent.
Yet it is no longer the primary language of this architecture. It ispresented along with ornament, i.e., the mechanical and circulation systems.TheCentre Pompidou, without de-emphasizing structure of indicates the formalinclusion a forthessentialarchitectural element, mechanical systems.
as its primary language, towardsmechanics, Now structure must share the stage with mechanical systems. This isnot to say that this is the first inclusion of mechanical systems intoarchitecture. Rather, they have always been considered a secondary part of architecture.Their inclusion has typically been expressed in an ornamental language(decorative drain spouts for example) or else the systems have been hidden.
Inthe case of Centre Pompidou, which presents real structure, it also presentsreal mechanical systems which are now an inextricable part of the architecture.TheCentre Pompidou presents both its structure and mechanical systems as itsarchitecture, expressive of meaning and intent. In the Centre Pompidou, the interpretationof the role of structure as primary and essential has changed to make structureequal with the also essential mechanical systems. By infusing mechanicalsystems with aesthetics and meaning, they become not only significant but alsopart of the architectural ‘language’.
The formal design instruments which areused to achieve this are as follows:1.Color. The ducts are painted bright colors, making them decorative.2.
Shape. The large round ducts are sculptural.3.Direction.The vertical movement of the ducts contrasts the predominantly horizontalcharacter of the structure.
4.Scale. The ducts are very large, abstracting their reading as familiar objects.5.Pattern. The juxtaposition of the ducts with the structure and circulationsystems creates pattern and interest along the building face.
Thepredominant mode of physical integration of systems in Centre Pompidou istouching2. Elements come into contact with each other without permanentconnections. The second is to make structure primary and suppress the readingof the mechanical systems. An example is the column in the Crystal Palace wherethe role of the mechanical systems is integrated into the column in such a waythat it is clearly subordinate to structure.Thedrain pipes, hidden in the columns are imperceptible to the viewer; the readingof the column gives no indication of its dual functions. Yet, through theintegration of the drainpipe into the column, the structure is mechanized.Thecast iron material of the column is put to two uses and the two systems are nolonger distinct.
The third example is to make structure primary and apply themechanical system as ornament to the structure.TheCentre Pompidou, is realized in a ‘language’ of electronic and mechanicalservices, and in a ‘language’ of structure. They are each visually prominent,the mechanical systems more so than the structure. The structure is’ornamented’ by the ducts and tubes, people, and art. The meaning of thearchitecture is now in both the structure and the mechanical systems. They are realpresentations as opposed to representations.
Anintent of the designers of the Centre Pompidou was to realize a building whichcould address unanticipated spatial needs or changes in the future.5 Expressedin the jargon of the Modern Movement, this meant designing a flexible building.The interpretation of this modernist notion has varied. Piano and Rogers have chosenthe literal interpretation and designed a structure which can change in plan,section and elevation.Theway in which Piano and Rogers created a flexible structure was by designing astructure which is an assemblage from a kit of parts. The catalog for the kitof parts for the structure is limited, as is the basic configuration of theresulting framework.
Each part, specifically designed, is assembled into anautonomous module, a structural bay of the building.Whenassembled as a free standing structural frame of columns and cross members, afixed framework is established. Change occurs by the insertion or removal offloors, thus changing the plan and section of the building. 8 In the originaldesign, floors could have been moved mechanically, but this was notimplemented.Akit for suspended mezzanine structures, which can be attached at any point inthe building between spans, also provides the ability for change. Furtherchange to the building can occur within the level of the envelope (the architectshave said the building has no facade). Panels of metal and glass can be changedto achieve more or less transparency.
Change can also occur in the partitionlayout since all the partitions are demountable.Thestructure of the Centre Pompidou is divided into two zones: the below gradesubstructure is formed in concrete; the above ground superstructure isassembled from prefabricated steel elements. The complete superstructure of theCentre Pompidou is comprised of thirteen assembled structural bays, connectedtogether. The dimensions of the structural bays are §even meters wide by fifty-twometers long. The superstructure is generated horizontally by placing the baystogether at their sides and it is generated vertically by stacking the floorsin pairs. In vertical section, the bay is open through its mid-center, beingsupported at each of its ends by pairs of columns, one in compression and one intension. Between the two columns, which are seven meters apart, is a special’gerberette’ beam which transfers the forces between the pair of columns.
The pairsof columns are forty-eight meters apart, and spanned by a lattice girder, threemeters deep. This assemblage of columns and beams is braced laterally by compositereinforced concrete and fabricated steel floor plates. Cross ties stabilize thestructure.
The structure rises compactly for six stories, at which point itsexteriorized support system (ducts) continue to rise to where they meet theirmechanized sources at the roof. Its latticework imagery transparently delimitsthe building. The open space created between the paired columns is contained inthis lattice. The open zone which is created, is filled with the mechanics and servicesof the building which are also ceremonial public circulation space. This is theaction zone of the building. It replaces facade.Color,which is used to articulate the various elements and indicate their functions,becomes a sign. It serves to advertise the building and engage the public.
Theuse of color also serves to break down the large expanse of structure, themembers of which are very large Smaller elements are articulated with color toincrease their visibility and larger ones are white, serving visually to reducetheir size. The colorful elements serve also to relieve what would otherwise betoo strenuous an expanse of structure. The Centre Pompidou was a very expensivebuilding to build (approximately $100 million).
Much of the expense was takenup by the development of the unique elements of the structure. Ironically, thedesign methodology behind it is that which leads to generic, repeatable buildings.If the Centre Pompidou were built many times, the ‘first costs’ would beabsorbed into the price of many buildings and thus the price of each individualbuilding would go down. The difference here is that the Centre Pompidou is a’generic’ prototype. Whereas if many ‘Centre Pompidou’ were to be built, itwould be a ‘production’ prototype.
“Thechoice of technology is implicit in the choice to build. Even the use of stonecorresponds to a precise technological option. Its simply that in an advanced periodlike our own materials are available with high levels of cohesion anddurability that are easily worked and handled.
It is culturally a mistake toreject the opportunity to mould an architectural language using all thispotential. It is questionable even to make an issue of it. An architect, abuilder, cannot help but use technological methods when it meets the design requirements.”22(Piano)