So that design didn’t work then

The Pompidou Centre, one of Paris’s top cultural attractions and home to Europe’s biggest modern art collection, is to close from 2023 for four years of renovations, France’s culture minister has said.

Designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the Pompidou Centre opened in 1977 and is showing visible signs of ageing.

“There were two options,” culture minister Roselyne Bachelot told the Figaro newspaper on Monday. “One involved renovating the centre while keeping it open, the other was closing it completely.

“I chose the second because it should be shorter and a little bit less expensive,” she said.

OK, fair enough.

The building’s radical design pushes almost all its structural and mechanical elements to the exterior, freeing up vast exhibition spaces on the inside.

A maze of blue airconditioning conduits, green water pipes, yellow electrical casings and red elevators are on display outside.

Ah, no, the justification at the time was that the services infrastructure – all that piping – had a shorter lifespan than the building. Thus put it on the outside where it could be repaired/replaced without having to shut down the building….

29 thoughts on “So that design didn’t work then”

  1. Centre Pompidou was looking like a heap when I was walking past it every day in the early 90’s. Peeling paint & gull & pigeon shit. Curiously, I did know Parisians who liked it. Why, I can’t imagine. The French from other parts of France shared my opinion.

  2. No it wasn’t, you’re being a bit naive in extending them that much credit.

    The rationale for sticking the services upon the outside of the building is that “good” architecture” means that the materials you used to build it must be on display – “Expressed” as they put it. This includes the service ducts and and supporting infrastructure if you then take the idea to the nth degree.

    It’s a daft idea though, in that they get covered in crud and muck due to the weather traffic pollution and sunlight, and are impossible to clean. They should be indoors, protected from all of the issues mentioned.

    The building was shut for two years in 1996 for exactly the same reason. They didn’t plan any of this.

    Given that the building was made out of steel, and steel at above 550 Celsius loses all of it’s strength, it has to be fireproofed. The original solution was to have water circulating over the structure to both keep it cool and provide fire protection, but this is just, as it turns out, also daft. So it contains Grenfell tower style “fireproof” panels that completely ruin the point of the original design that you were meant to be able to see into it.

  3. It was a particularly stupid phase in architecture which no one bothers with any longer. There’s new stupid of course… actually that could be the name of a movement: The New Stupid.

  4. Richard Rogers, of course, the man who also gave us the nightmare-to-clean-and-maintain Lloyds Building.

    He got over that phase and his subsequent architecture is a bit more sensible, although I still don’t like his style.

  5. MC: aren’t all phases of architecture stupid these days? I remember decades ago watching University Challenge and the question was “in what style of architecture is the building Centre Point?”. Not knowing, I guessed ‘Siefert’s Folly’, which to my mind is a better description than ‘Brutal’. Those big concrete monoliths from South Bank onwards look twice as shit today as they did when they were built.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Tractor Gent January 26, 2021 at 10:07 am – “aren’t all phases of architecture stupid these days?”

    Auberon Waugh had a “punch an architect” campaign. If they inflict pain on the rest of us 24/7 all year around, why not?

    It is one of the few reasons why I think Prince Charles might be a good king. He has been banging on about this for decades. At least, as he might have said, the Luftwaffe didn’t give Paris this building.

    The remarkable thing is everyone agrees with Charles. But nothing changes.

  7. The Channel 4 building in London is also by Rogers, in a similar “show us your innermost secrets” design. It aligns rather well with C4’s programming.

  8. “Centre Pompidou was looking like a heap when I was walking past it every day in the early 90’s. Peeling paint & gull & pigeon shit. ”

    I went to it in the 80s and some of the escalators had missing window panels. Then I went in and it was just like a big library.

  9. Tractor Gent,

    “aren’t all phases of architecture stupid these days?”

    The thing with the worst of modern architecture is that government is nearly always behind it. And the politicians have no investment in it. So, they build a fancy new Birmingham library, but who wants more libraries? And it just doesn’t work well as a library. They had to remove books from some sections because of how the sunlight was shining on them.

    And of course, because they’re gone in 5 years, no-one thinks about adaptation or maintenance. The only time you see wanky architecture in the private sector is when the organisation has been so wildly successful that they think they’re demigods and you’re into Parkinson’s Law. Like I’m waiting for Apple to go to the wall after they built that wanky doughnut building.

  10. Fact: most Modern Architecture, like most Modern Art, is shit. The Romans built better buildings than most modern architects could that have lasted literally over a thousand years. See; The Pantheon, Hagia Sophia, Pont du Garde.

  11. “Those big concrete monoliths from South Bank onwards look twice as shit today as they did when they were built.”
    The big sweeps of white concrete look good on the artist impressions, pre build. But concrete doesn’t age well. The surface starts to beak down with rain, frost & temperature changes. Then you get water run-off marks & rusting from the reinforcing steel. Add general grime accumulates in any city…You can get the same building in the paler, softer natural stone. But at least you have the necessary construction details to break it up. Usually it just enhances & emphasises them. There are ways to build in concrete will provide a facia weathers attractively. But that’s not what they built. They were & are not proper architects. Just jumped up arts grads.

  12. Mitterand’s folly, the new Bibliotheque Nationale, is architecturally boring, which could be said to be an improvement on the Pompidou. But it never worked properly on the inside and is made redundant by the internet.

  13. BIS- +1 Re: southbank.-the water stains do ruin it. My dad always told me that they just built everything quickly and cheaply for the festival of britain, often wood with concrete poured over it. Not really supposed to be there for ever – just better than a bomb site. Dunno.. i used to walk through cardbord city everyday. There was a sunken bit right by waterloo bridge with a very large round planter. Of course nothing was planted in it and it was just a supersized bin. I often thought – the architect of this badly thought out monstrosity probably got a knighthood. – By the millenium it they put the IMAX theatre there… a massive improvement.

  14. I actually don’t mind a bit of brutalism – I am a big fan of the Barbican and always rather hankered after a flat there. I like Centrepoint too. The point about concrete ageing is valid though. Liverpool Catholic Cathedral suffers in the same way (or did when I visited).

    I have to say though, apart from its worst excesses, I prefer dodgy modern architecture to tedious pastiche, which tends to be the alternative. I’m not fond of glass and steel boxes though.

    BiS mentions the gulf between the renders and reality; this is often a way developers cheat. For example The Shard had bulk added at the bottom to make it commercially viable, but this spoiled the lines. Also the London Assembly building looked quite glittery and cool in the renders but they used shit cheap glass, so it looks awful.

    My most hated London building is the ‘Walkie Talkie’ which is ugly beyond belief, massive and prone to melting cars in the summer.

  15. As someone who works often with architects, I can confirm that they almost never consider the effects of weather on their buildings. Design illustrations are always presented lit as if in brilliant Mediterranean sunshine.

  16. The physician can bury his mistakes – but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.
    Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

    To illustrate the point, his Falling Water, probably the most famous modern private residence in the world, is falling down, with the cantilevered concrete platforms that jut so impressively over the waterfall cracking up. It’s going to cost a fortune to fix.

  17. Modern environmental friendly design seems to mean leaving everything on display and spraying to strange foam on it, apparently suspended ceilings are cosmetic and environmentally wasteful etc.
    If you’ve ever removed a panel from a suspended ceiling you’d see they do a great job of keeping dirt and odd bits of junk away from your working area.

  18. Having worked in a few environmental award buildings it seems to me that the people working in the building are not considered part of the environment by the architects

  19. The remarkable thing is everyone agrees with Charles.

    I don’t. He’s a spoiled idiot who thinks money grows on trees. Not content with destroying the economy to rid us of CO2, he wants to make all the buildings twice as costly as well.

    I’ve said it before here, but the problem is scale. You cannot build the size of building required in the modern world in the types of architecture that meet Prince Charles’s vision. A seventeen story high-rise kitted out as a modern Buckingham Palace would be unbelievably hideous.

    That’s why when they renovate the White House or the Houses of Parliament that three-quarters of the building goes underground. The buildings aren’t big enough any more, but they can’t change the size. So they spend an absolute fortune dig under what would cost half that above ground.

    People are fickle about architecture — they rant away a “modern” architecture as uniformly awful, then admire the new Wembley.

  20. Frank Lloyd Wright is greatly overrated. The best example is Falling Water, where the key feature of the site, the waterfall, was covered up by his building and invisible to the residents. He was also an incompetent structural engineer; everything he built is falling apart.

  21. So Much For Subtlety

    Chester Draws January 26, 2021 at 8:00 pm – “he wants to make all the buildings twice as costly as well.”

    And yet it is interesting that Poundbury is so popular and hence expensive. Maybe people do not want cheap tacky buildings? At least not to live in.

    “A seventeen story high-rise kitted out as a modern Buckingham Palace would be unbelievably hideous.”

    Well Buck Palace is hideous but we won’t know until we try. I have another solution of course. Don’t build 17 story buildings.

    “That’s why when they renovate the White House or the Houses of Parliament that three-quarters of the building goes underground. The buildings aren’t big enough any more, but they can’t change the size. So they spend an absolute fortune dig under what would cost half that above ground.”

    Again the solution is smaller government. You mean they might have to wait until a document and junior official came from Slough? Well tough. The government is too big and too concentrated as it is.

  22. Bloke in North Dorset

    And yet it is interesting that Poundbury is so popular and hence expensive.

    All property is expensive round here as I discovered when I moved back down after 20 years in Bucks. Poundbury falls in to the marmite category of locations, at least amongst those of us who live round here. I’ll admit my bias is against it, I’ve been lost in its mazy streets too many times and think the houses look drearily uniform once you get past the showcase areas and the extensions look as if they will be no different to most suburban estates.

    From what I’ve seen there no evidence that his design is creating the community spirit that it was awarded for, but then as I say, I don’t like it so now try to avoid it.

  23. ” He was also an incompetent structural engineer; everything he built is falling apart.”

    Did he do the engineering bit himself though? Architects are supposed employ a Civil Engineer to check their calculations these days.
    I image most of the failures are due to the material, reinforced concrete, he selected.

  24. Poundbury? What a weird place. Visited a few years ago looking for a particular shop. I remarked to the shopkeeper how strange the place was and that when I saw a map with ‘Duchy of Cornwall’ in the corner, that explained everything. She smiled a wry smile.

    As for Charles, whilst I have some sympathy with his dislike of modern architecture, Poundbury isn’t the answer, and on virtually all other subjects on which he pontificates I seem to have diametrically opposed views. Will he shut up and be a ‘monarch’ when Lizzy kicks it, or will he endanger his position (and the monarchy) by being an interfering old busybody.

  25. Jonathan, that’s because it was mixed by a gang of Algerians while their foreman spent the morning playing boules and dragging on Gitanes and the afternoon, after his 4 hour lunch break, in the cafe and the nearby pissoir with the bloke who had the blueprints.

    And don’t get me started on the plumbers !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *