Le Centre Pompidou Descriptive Essay

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The Centre Pompidou, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, is a 20th-century architectural marvel, immediately recognizable by its exterior escalators and enormous coloured tubing. It is home to the National Museum of Modern Art and is internationally renowned for its 20th and 21st century art collections. The works of iconic artists are displayed chronologically over two sections: the modern period, from 1905 to 1960 (Matisse, Picasso, Dubuffet, etc.), and the contemporary period, from 1960 to the present day (Andy Warhol, Niki de Saint Phalle, Anish Kapoor, etc.). In addition to its permanent collections, internationally renowned exhibitions are organized every year on the top floor, where visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of Paris and its rooftops. Everything you might need to spend a pleasant half-day, or indeed a day in the museum is available: eat at Le Georges, learn more at the public information library, and take a break browsing the shelves of the museum gift shop. At the foot of the Centre, the Atelier Brancusi presents a unique collection of works by this artist who played a major role in the history of modern sculpture.

Panoramic view over Paris from 6th floor (included in entrance ticket). Panoramic view only: €3.

Architectural style


  • Architecture
  • Arts graphiques
  • Bibliothèque
  • Cinéma
  • Design
  • Dessins
  • Mobilier
  • Multimédia
  • Musique
  • Peinture
  • Photographie
  • Sculpture
  • Spectacle vivant
  • Urbanisme

Epoque des collections

  • Fauvisme (XXe)
  • Cubisme (XXe)
  • Modernisme (XXe)
  • Expressionisme (XXe)
  • Futurisme (XXe)
  • Dadaisme (XXe)
  • Surréalisme (XXe)
  • L'abstraction (XXe)
  • Mouvement (XXe)
  • Contemporain (XXe - XXIe)

The nuts and bolts of the hi-tech age
High-tech architecture emerged in the 1970s. The term was first coined in a book: High Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for The Home, by Joan Kron and Suzanne Slesin, in which the architectural style is characterised by a "nuts-and-bolts, exposed-pipes, technological look". The Pompidou Centre is the building that epitomises it. It broke the mould with its rebellious all-exposed construction: the steel structure from which the floors are suspended is visible from the outside, as are the giant external escalators, and the service ducts - colour-coded yellow for electricity, red for heating, blue for air and green for water. High-tech brought a refreshing new face to modern architecture, which was becoming increasingly associated with brutalist slabs encased in grimy concrete, and the bad press they received for their failings. Science and technology were having a major impact on society - the memory of the Apollo moon landings was still fresh - and there was a feeling that with the right technology anything was possible. Architecture, too, was having its techno moment, as traditional construction gave way to space frames with metal and glass cladding, and extensive use of factory-produced materials and components. The pioneers of this style - Rogers and Piano, Norman Foster, Michael Hopkins - created an architectural language that, by externalising its technical elements and allowing them to create the building's facade, gave modernism a new lease on life when it most needed it. Henrietta Thompson

Operating under the influence
The inside-out gallery and performance centre in Paris' Beaubourg is named after former French president Georges Pompidou, but its development was closely followed by his wife, Claude. It is rumoured that Georges Pompidou did not approve of the jury's choice of architects and would have preferred a more classical approach. But the couple were passionate collectors of contemporary art - Claude had a particularly interest in the work of Yves Klein - and it was claimed that the permanent collection for the centre was based largely on Claude's knowledge of her husband's taste. Whether Georges would have approved of the selection is open to speculation as he died three years before the building was unveiled in 1977. Noted for her love of fashion as much as her interest in modern art, the publicity-shy Claude did not enjoy political life, once famously describing the Élysée Palace a "house of sadness". It was her influence that saw the couple redecorate the palace with daring contemporary designs including painted aluminium walls and furniture by Pierre Paulin. HT

70s flair gives way to 90s pragmatism
Some things must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The Centre Georges Pompidou, designed by Rogers and Piano together with structural engineer Peter Rice, was devised using a supremely flexible structural system to allow for deep, unencumbered exhibition spaces. The distinctive colour-coded service ducts were banished to the exterior, where, it must be said, they deteriorated swiftly in the grimy Parisian atmosphere. Originally designed for 5,000 visitors a day, the Pompidou was groaning under five times that number, traipsing through the galleries and expansive public foyers. Fixtures and finishes were showing their age, while the steel frame also needed a wash and a brush up, having weathered and rusted badly. At the end of 1997 a major restoration programme began, budgeted at around €135m. The job was overseen by Renzo Piano - without Rogers - along with the French architect Jean-François Bodin. Interior spaces were re-jigged, new escalators installed, and a certain amount of "flexibility" removed in order to create a more functional space. The dream of the modular building died, along with the public-spirited, free access to the roof via the snaking glass-enclosed escalators - much to Rogers' disappointment. Jonathan Bell

A Pompidou Centre for all seasons
The second Pompidou Centre, scheduled to open 2008, will, according to its architects, provide "a new type of public institution that can grow and transform itself according to climate or occasion". France's first Pompidou Centre outside Paris will open in the city of Metz, in the Lorraine region, and has been designed by the Japanese Shigeru Ban Architects in association with Jean de Gastines (Paris) and Gumuchdjian Architects (London). Shigeru Ban - who beat off tough competition from others including Foreign Office Architects and Herzog & de Meuron - is best-known for his innovative work with paper, particularly recycled cardboard tubes, which he has used to house disaster victims. The new building is a modular structure, designed around a central 77m-high spire. Three rectangular cantilevered tubes will form the galleries for the permanent collections and will be angled to frame views of the city's historic monuments. The most dramatic feature of the new Centre will be the roof - inspired by a Muak Kui, the woven bamboo Chinese hat. Draped over the entire complex like a massive translucent, hexagonal, lattice sheet, the roof will protect the facades from cold northerly winds in winter and provide shade in the summer. HT

Here comes the fun with the Fab Six
What were they thinking? The psychedelic cartoon architecture of the Pompidou Centre had its roots in the work of avant garde architecture group Archigram, sometimes known as "architecture's Beatles". Archigram's playful, twisty-pop visions of a technocratic future had grabbed headlines after its formation in 1961 by a group of young London architects - Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron and Michael Webb. Frustrated with the intellectual conservatism of the British architectural establishment, the fab six mixed pop art's fascination with found objects with new (and hypothetical) technology to imagine a new type of architecture. In 1962, Chalk, Crompton and Herron were invited to produce an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; the result was Living City, a manifesto for their belief "in the city as a unique organism", not just a collection of buildings, but a means of empowering people to choose how to lead their lives. Memorable projects include Ron Herron's 1964 cartoon of a Walking City in which giant, reptilian structures glided across the world on enormous legs until its inhabitants wanted to settle; and Peter Cook's 1964 Plug-in City, involving crane-mounted living pods that could be plugged in wherever convenient. In 1968, the group proposed an Instant City that would fly from place to place and temporarily "land" in small communities - letting the inhabitants enjoy the buzz of city life without having to go there themselves. Archigram's influence on the Pompidou Centre is obvious, although some Archigram members were apparently disappointed that it didn't move. HT


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