The machine-age architecture of Centre Pompidou has made it one of Paris’ most memorable cultural landmarks. Conceived in 1969 by president George Pompidou as a new cultural centre to regenerate the Beaubourg area of Paris, in 1971 the French Ministry of Culture launched a competition for its design. We encouraged Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano to join us in submitting an entry. The panel judging the 681 entries from 49 counties read like a ‘Who’s who’ of architectural greats. Chaired by French master engineer Jean Prouvé, it included American architect Philip Johnson, Sydney Opera House designer Jørn Utzon and Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer.
145 million visitors in its first 20 years
681 entries to the design competition
48mspans between columns
A changing challenge
• The building would not only have to house a library and cinema and offer large exhibition space, that space would have to be capable of responding to a changing schedule of events.
• Creating art spaces at huge scale in an adaptable building would be a complex structural challenge.
Turning convention inside out
Unlike the Louvre and Paris’ other cathedrals of art, the Centre Pompidou is designed around its visitors. To create the large, adaptable, uninterrupted floor areas that would allow for the circulation of large numbers of people, the design team created an ‘inside-out’ building. Structure and services would all be moved to the outside of the building. The floors would be supported by cantilevers or ‘gerberettes’ attached to the main steel structure, allowing entire floors to be reconfigured.
Modern expression, historic inspiration
The modernist appearance of the Centre Pompidou hides a more historic inspiration. In designing the huge 48m cast steelwork spans that would create the 10 storeys of exhibition space, our team looked back to the legacy of French engineer Gustav Eiffel and his famous masterpiece. For the nodes that would connect the steel spans, they looked to a more contemporary reference. Like the space-frame roof designed by Japanese architect Koji Kamiya for Osaka Airport, the nodes are constructed out of machined cast steel to become part of the detailed architectural design.
Shaping a better world
Founded by Sir Ove Arup, we are firm of designers, planners, engineers, architects, consultants and technical specialists all focused – like our work at 52 Lime Street – on shaping a better world.