Centre Pompidou Masterplan

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners as Architects

In 1971 Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, in collaboration with Ove Arup & Partners, won the international competition, for which there were 681 entries, for an ‘information, entertainment and cultural centre’. The building was designed and built in six years, the main steel structure being erected in six months. Today, the vast building, located in the centre of historic Paris, houses a museum of modern art, reference library, industrial design centre, temporary exhibition space, children’s library and art centre, audio-visual research centre (IRCAM) and restaurants.

At the time of the competition, there were no sizeable open spaces in this central area of the city, so the importance of creating public space was key to this project: half of the Beaubourg site was dedicated to a vast piazza which has since become the most intensively used public space in Paris. Thus, the competition response created a centre not only for the specialist but also for the tourist and the local resident: a dynamic meeting place where activities could overlap in flexible, well-serviced spaces, a university of the street reflecting the constantly changing needs of users. The greater public involvement, the greater the success of the building. The large, paved, sloping piazza is host to street theatre and music, games, meetings, parades and temporary exhibitions. This has had a significant regenerative effect on the surrounding neighborhood. To the east, the Centre abuts the street, reinforcing the existing urban pattern. Pompidou proves that modernity and tradition can profitably interact and enhance historic cities. ‘Cities of the future will no longer be zoned as today in isolated one-activity ghettos, but will resemble the more richly layered cities of the past. Living, work, shopping, learning and leisure will overlap and be housed in continuous, varied and changing structures’ (Richard Rogers).

Beaubourg was a key connection in the renewal of the historic heart of the capital and made an impact on Paris which reverberates to this day.

A colossal 100,000m², this public building is designed to be a flexible container and dynamic communications machine and is constructed from pre-fabricated parts. Host to 6 levels of vast column-free interiors, the building achieves uninterrupted floor space by limiting all vertical structures and servicing to the exterior; even escalators and lifts are clipped to the façade. The glazed escalators which snake up the full height of the building not only celebrate the drama of movement but provide panoramic views of the piazza, its environs and all of Paris. The internal spaces are designed to be highly adaptable so that their character and use can change freely within the life of the centre; there is no obvious hierarchy which separates art and learning from more everyday activities. With its external colour-coded servicing and structure, the building reveals its internal mechanism to all those who look up at it. It is a flexible, functional, transparent, inside-out looking building. The Centre Pompidou has an average attendance of approximately seven million people per year..

Centre Georges Pompidou

Renzo Piano Building Workshop as Architects

An immediate architectural icon of Paris, the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou (Centre Pompidou, or Beaubourg) is a vast multidisciplinary structure, a culture factory that preserves and exhibits important modern art collections. It is a place where the many strands of contemporary culture intertwine: art, design, literature, music and cinema. The centre is like a huge spaceship made of glass, steel and coloured tubing that landed unexpectedly in the heart of the Paris, and where it would very quickly set deep roots.

The project was conceived in 1969 by then President, Georges Pompidou. An international competition was launched by the French Ministry of Culture in 1971, which Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers entered and won. The two-hectare site, the ‘Plateau Beaubourg’, lies on the edge of the Marais right in the dense urban fabric of old Paris. Half of the area is taken up by the building with the other half, following a radical design strategy, devoted to the creation of a public space – the piazza, ‘parvis’, that gently slopes down to the lower-ground-floor entrance hall.

The entire structure of the 10-floor building (7 above ground, 3 below) is made of steel. Huge 48m warren trusses span the full width of the building. They are connected to columns at each end by a die-cast steel ‘gerberette’. This massive, visible set of structural components removes the requirement for internal support and thus enables the creation of huge open spaces. The resulting 50 x 170m plateaus can be arranged and equipped for any activity. To achieve maximum flexibility within these vast internal spaces, the services and circulation have been placed outside them. Lifts and escalators are contained within the support structure on the piazza facade. Escalators zig-zagging through transparent tubes up the front of the building afford increasingly extraordinary views out over Paris. The colour-coded utilities (blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for vertical circulation) are positioned along the Rue Beaubourg, street-side facade. Deliberately leaving behind the tradition of the austere, impenetrable monument, the Pompidou Centre is totally transparent in both face and function. It is inviting and understandable.

As well as the big entrance Forum, the main, upper-level gallery spaces and the vast library – the Bibliothèque publique d’information, found on the first, second and third levels of the main building – the site also houses other departments, including the Atelier Brancusi and the IRCAM – the institute for music/acoustic research and coordination.

Despite earlier widespread opposition to the project, the public was quick to embrace the Centre Pompidou. From the opening in 1977 more than 150 million visitors passed through its doors. This extraordinary popularity made it necessary to close the building in order to renovate and enlarge public spaces. The Centre Pompidou re-opened in 2000.

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