Pompidou Centre

Year:1977

Duration:6 years

Cost:£95m (£731m today)

Country: Paris, France

What did this project achieve?

Create a national centre for culture and the arts that reflects what’s inside

The Pompidou Centre is a national institute for culture and the arts in central Paris.

The building was commissioned by Georges Pompidou, President of France from 1969 until his death in 1974. Pompidou was previously the country's longest serving Prime Minister.

The centre was designed by a British architectural team led by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. The duo beat 680 other entries in an international competition run by the French government. Rogers and Piano designed the complex in the ‘high-tech’ style – using aspects of modern industry and technology in the building design. Other examples of ‘high-tech’ include the Lloyds Building in London.

 

The Pompidou Centre is a rectangular building 164m long and 60m wide. It is 45m high at its tallest point.

Overlooking a large public piazza, the structure has an external exposed steel frame. Its services - including heating and ventilation ducts - are on the outside to allow more gallery space inside.

The centre covers 5 acres. It houses a large public library, a museum of modern art and the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM). IRCAM studies the science of music and sound. The complex opened in 1977 and has generally been regarded as a success - over 145 million people visited in the first 20 years.

Difference the cultural centre has made

The Pompidou Centre is seen as one of the most important museums of modern art in the world. It’s credited with making culture and the arts more accessible to the public.

The centre has brought an average of 3.5 million people to the area every year, contributing to the local economy.

How the work was done

Engineers used a permanent steel grid as the main structure for the building. This provided a stable framework into which moving parts – such as walls and floors – could be inserted or removed as they were needed.

The massive pieces of steel needed for construction were made in foundries and delivered to the site during the night.

The project team used 16,000 tonnes of cast and prefabricated steel to create the 6-storey structure. Floors were made from reinforced concrete.

The cladding for the building is a ‘curtain wall’ of steel and glass with solid metal and glazed panels hanging from the floor above. This makes the panels easy to change and allows interior spaces to be flexible.

All functional elements of the building were originally colour-coded. Green pipes meant plumbing. Electrical wires were encased in yellow. Safety devices – fire extinguishers, for example – were red.

"​‌

A 1970s French radical that’s never gone out of fashion.

Rowan Moore

architecture critic of the Observer, writing on the eve of the Pompidou Centre’s 40th birthday, January 2017.

Fascinating facts

Early designs for the centre included huge electronic screens overlooking the piazza outside. The original drawings for the complex showed a screen with the message: ‘”Caroline – go to Kansas City immediately. Your friend Linda has been busted”.

Pompidou died before the centre was completed. His successor Giscard d’Estaing slashed budgets for the project and the information screens were among ideas dropped to save cash.

The Pompidou Centre was not universally popular when it first opened. The Guardian’s architecture critic called it “hideous”. French newspaper Le Figaro said: “Paris has its own monster - just like Loch Ness.”

People who made it happen

  • Designers: Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Gianfranco Franchini
  • Engineers: Peter Rice, Edmund Happold, Povl Ahm, Lennart Grut
  • Contractors: Ove Arup

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