1971, a competition for the design of a Cultural Centre for Paris was won by
the architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. The competition brief called for
the provision of one million square feet to house a museum of modern art, a
reference library, a center for industrial design and a center for music and
acoustic research. It was hoped by the sponsor of the competition, this being the
French Government, that by collecting these activities in one facility,
exchange between these disciplines and between culture and commerce could take
the program through modern sensibilities (seeking to cut across social
divisions and embracing advanced technology and electro-communications), the architects
sought to design a building which synthesized the four specialized activities
and the city, and directly engaged the general public. The resulting design is
a machine, blatantly expressed as such. Composed primarily of networks;
structural, mechanical, circulation, the Centre Pompidou is a machine for synthesis
and assimilation. The visitor and the art inhabit the machine.
mechanical systems become the primary reading of the Pompidou Centre. Its
structure, while it is highly legible, is a visual backdrop for tubes of
various mechanical functions which include:
Escalators for vertical circulation
Pompidou Centre, characteristic of non-traditional architecture, rigorously
exploits all productive forces of this age, assimilating them into its
architecture. This includes:
Implementation of a rationalized structural system which is entirely dependent
upon advanced structural analysis involving computers and heavy industry. These
have been instrumentalized for determining the size and shape of structural
members in the design process as well as controlling the fabrication process.
Exploitation of specialized materials and the industrial capabilities of many
nations. Examples of this are the ‘toughened’ glass used for the enclosure of
the passarelle, the escalator tubes which are attached to the structure along
its western face, and the fabrication of the stainless-steel lattice girders in
Electronically monitored environmental controls including, window blinds which
provide “local solar control and black-out facilities.”1 The
structure, an articulated skeletal frame, is light and open and visually
prominent. Yet it is no longer the primary language of this architecture. It is
presented along with ornament, i.e., the mechanical and circulation systems.
Centre Pompidou, without de-emphasizing structure of indicates the formal
inclusion a forth
architectural element, mechanical systems. as its primary language, towards
mechanics, Now structure must share the stage with mechanical systems. This is
not to say that this is the first inclusion of mechanical systems into
architecture. 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. In
the case of Centre Pompidou, which presents real structure, it also presents
real mechanical systems which are now an inextricable part of the architecture.
Centre Pompidou presents both its structure and mechanical systems as its
architecture, expressive of meaning and intent. In the Centre Pompidou, the interpretation
of the role of structure as primary and essential has changed to make structure
equal with the also essential mechanical systems. By infusing mechanical
systems with aesthetics and meaning, they become not only significant but also
part of the architectural ‘language’. The formal design instruments which are
used to achieve this are as follows:
Color. The ducts are painted bright colors, making them decorative.
Shape. The large round ducts are sculptural.
The vertical movement of the ducts contrasts the predominantly horizontal
character of the structure.
Scale. The ducts are very large, abstracting their reading as familiar objects.
Pattern. The juxtaposition of the ducts with the structure and circulation
systems creates pattern and interest along the building face.
predominant mode of physical integration of systems in Centre Pompidou is
touching2. Elements come into contact with each other without permanent
connections. The second is to make structure primary and suppress the reading
of the mechanical systems. An example is the column in the Crystal Palace where
the role of the mechanical systems is integrated into the column in such a way
that it is clearly subordinate to structure.
drain pipes, hidden in the columns are imperceptible to the viewer; the reading
of the column gives no indication of its dual functions. Yet, through the
integration of the drainpipe into the column, the structure is mechanized.
cast iron material of the column is put to two uses and the two systems are no
longer distinct. The third example is to make structure primary and apply the
mechanical system as ornament to the structure.
Centre Pompidou, is realized in a ‘language’ of electronic and mechanical
services, 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 the
architecture is now in both the structure and the mechanical systems. They are real
presentations as opposed to representations.
intent of the designers of the Centre Pompidou was to realize a building which
could address unanticipated spatial needs or changes in the future.5 Expressed
in the jargon of the Modern Movement, this meant designing a flexible building.
The interpretation of this modernist notion has varied. Piano and Rogers have chosen
the literal interpretation and designed a structure which can change in plan,
section and elevation.
way in which Piano and Rogers created a flexible structure was by designing a
structure which is an assemblage from a kit of parts. The catalog for the kit
of parts for the structure is limited, as is the basic configuration of the
resulting framework. Each part, specifically designed, is assembled into an
autonomous module, a structural bay of the building.
assembled as a free standing structural frame of columns and cross members, a
fixed framework is established. Change occurs by the insertion or removal of
floors, thus changing the plan and section of the building. 8 In the original
design, floors could have been moved mechanically, but this was not
kit for suspended mezzanine structures, which can be attached at any point in
the building between spans, also provides the ability for change. Further
change to the building can occur within the level of the envelope (the architects
have said the building has no facade). Panels of metal and glass can be changed
to achieve more or less transparency. Change can also occur in the partition
layout since all the partitions are demountable.
structure of the Centre Pompidou is divided into two zones: the below grade
substructure is formed in concrete; the above ground superstructure is
assembled from prefabricated steel elements. The complete superstructure of the
Centre Pompidou is comprised of thirteen assembled structural bays, connected
together. The dimensions of the structural bays are §even meters wide by fifty-two
meters long. The superstructure is generated horizontally by placing the bays
together at their sides and it is generated vertically by stacking the floors
in pairs. In vertical section, the bay is open through its mid-center, being
supported at each of its ends by pairs of columns, one in compression and one in
tension. Between the two columns, which are seven meters apart, is a special
‘gerberette’ beam which transfers the forces between the pair of columns. The pairs
of columns are forty-eight meters apart, and spanned by a lattice girder, three
meters deep. This assemblage of columns and beams is braced laterally by composite
reinforced concrete and fabricated steel floor plates. Cross ties stabilize the
structure. The structure rises compactly for six stories, at which point its
exteriorized support system (ducts) continue to rise to where they meet their
mechanized sources at the roof. Its latticework imagery transparently delimits
the building. The open space created between the paired columns is contained in
this lattice. The open zone which is created, is filled with the mechanics and services
of the building which are also ceremonial public circulation space. This is the
action zone of the building. It replaces facade.
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. The
use of color also serves to break down the large expanse of structure, the
members of which are very large Smaller elements are articulated with color to
increase their visibility and larger ones are white, serving visually to reduce
their size. The colorful elements serve also to relieve what would otherwise be
too strenuous an expanse of structure. The Centre Pompidou was a very expensive
building to build (approximately $100 million). Much of the expense was taken
up by the development of the unique elements of the structure. Ironically, the
design methodology behind it is that which leads to generic, repeatable buildings.
If the Centre Pompidou were built many times, the ‘first costs’ would be
absorbed into the price of many buildings and thus the price of each individual
building would go down. The difference here is that the Centre Pompidou is a
‘generic’ prototype. Whereas if many ‘Centre Pompidou’ were to be built, it
would be a ‘production’ prototype.
choice of technology is implicit in the choice to build. Even the use of stone
corresponds to a precise technological option. Its simply that in an advanced period
like our own materials are available with high levels of cohesion and
durability that are easily worked and handled. It is culturally a mistake to
reject the opportunity to mould an architectural language using all this
potential. It is questionable even to make an issue of it. An architect, a
builder, cannot help but use technological methods when it meets the design requirements.”