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The Pompidou Centre in Paris has emerged from its 28 month makeover looking remarkably sleek. Stripped of all steel sleeving, the external structure is gleaming white; colour-coding has been refreshed and much of the elevational glazing has been replaced. In keeping with current practice in France, all public access is channelled through a battery of security controls at the main entrance, so when busy, multiple admission queues stretch right across the Place Georges-Pompidou. Opening hours are longer and tariffs cheaper than before and free admission still applies to the public information library (BPI) and on one Sunday a month. A similar policy is being tried out at the National Museum of Modern Art.

The complete internal reorganization was conducted by three practices. Jean Francois Bodin was commissioned for the public information library, the National Museum of Modern Art and the main top-floor exhibition space. Jakob & MacFarlane won the competition for the new top-floor restaurant and Renzo Piano retained responsibility for roof terraces and remodelling the Forum and related spaces at lower levels, where his exhibition, Renzo Piano -- un regard construit, is on show in the Galerie Sud.

The exhibition has been in preparation under Piano's direction since 1997 (not without friction, some of it shown on video). As with his previous exhibitions (at the IBA in 1989 for instance, or the Beyeler Foundation Basel in 1997), Piano wanted to create an atmosphere akin to his own office, by presenting a selection of buildings and projects on 6m x 2m work tables with chairs to sit on while visitors study them. In response to the size and technical capabilities of the Galerie Sud, a more abstract approach was developed, based on the idea of hanging most of the exhibition from a forest of cables. Arranged in rows, 22 work tables are suspended from the ceiling and anchored to the floor. Vertically hung spot-lit colour photographs signal the displays at each table.

Seen from outside, it presents the inviting spectacle of a huge space alive with sculpture-mobiles (structures seemingly plucked from D'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form), full-size mock-ups of construction details, models of buildings at different scales, large spot-lit colour photographs, people moving among the exhibits or pouring over horizontal displays, others sitting at tables consulting reference material or watching videos.

Eighteen built projects have been selected to illustrate major turning points in Piano's work, amplified by some prehistory (1965-1973). These are simply presented as one per work table (two in the case of Potsdamer Platz). In theory, at least, they are grouped as three families -- 'invention', 'urbanite' and 'sensibilit[acute{e}]' -- identified only in the catalogue, which evidently went to press before the exhibition layout was finalized. Piano is naturally anxious to stress these categories are not mutually exclusive, but simply a means to show aspects of his buildings which exemplify new departures in his work. What's more, unexpected cross currents emerge from these non-chronological groups. For instance, until seeing the Bari football stadium, Kansai airport and the Foggia pilgrimage church lined up (as examples of invention), it had not occurred to me that all three have crowd management in common as well as innovatory structures.

Vertical panels at the perimeter offer glimpses of work in progress (seven current projects, four of them in Europe, two in the US and one in Tokyo), and two work tables serve as a sort of office library, where books and other publications, videos and computer data on Piano's work and career may be consulted.

The Centre Georges Pompidou is included among buildings selected to illustrate 'urbanit[acute{e}]', from the Piano + Rogers competition project to completion in 1977, and subsequent extension by Piano. Reinforcing the evolution in his work since 1977, the exhibition is seen against the backdrop of the immediate neighbourhood -- Piano's Ircam tower (1990) is in view and his Atelier Brancusi (AR September 1997) is only a short walk away, via the Forum just remodelled to his designs.

When the exhibition opened in January, Piano was asked by the press for his comments on the changes made to the Pompidou Centre, notably those resulting from revisions to the programme originally announced in 1994 (AR May 1994). Reminding his interlocutors that the building had been designed to accommodate continual change, he asserted that nothing had been done in the present refit that could not be changed in future, adding that the whole building should be given a radical overhaul every half century or so. When asked whether he would design the same project if starting from scratch now, he put it like this: 'Of course not. Time has moved on'.

Details of current Pompidou Centre exhibitions, events, opening times and entrance charges are available at A catalogue Reozo Piano, un regard construit is published by Editions du Centre Pompidou FF199 and a 52 minute film directed by Marc Pelitjean Reozo Piano, Architecte au long cours is also available on video. The exhibition will transfer to the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin from 1 June. Readers can also consult an archive of AR articles on Piano's work over the last three years on the AR website at
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Previous Article:Delight.

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