The Pompidou Centre transformed our relationship with buildingsby Amanda Levete / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
The Pompidou Centre “creates a sense of place, one that belongs to everyone”
What makes a masterpiece? Great art stops us in our tracks; it gives us an insight into reality; it makes us think; it helps us to see and understand the structure of things. Unlike art, architecture is driven by function. Architects need to meet exacting technical and regulatory dictums, and respond to unforeseen demands. But therein lies the art: the struggle of doing all this while holding onto the integrity of the idea; of seeking that perfect balance between form and function.
So many of the ingredients that go into making a building are outside the architect’s control—site, context, timing, brief, client and geographical location, to name a few. The Parthenon would not exude the power it does were it not for its pivotal location at the top of the Acropolis. Most of the great 20th-century houses have spectacular sites—think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s FallingWater and its rugged waterside plot, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House alone among trees and the impossibly dramatic cliffside of Casa Malaparte.
Timing also has enormous impact. Ride on the breaking wave of the zeitgeist, and even the temporary can become permanent. Paxton’s brilliant Crystal Palace of 1851, completed in just eight months, was without question the ultimate expression of its age, and the industrial revolution.
You can’t have greatness in architecture without shifting the debate in some way—so it has to be about much more than perfection. Perfection can refer to a technique mastered over time; but it is never perfection that changes the world. It is something more urgent, more conceptual that shifts the way we look at things, which makes a building more than an object, but a place; a place that holds ideas, meaning and even ideology.
The most important building of recent times is still the Pompidou Centre, by Piano + Rogers, in Paris. It redefined the way we think about space. And it is the guiding inspiration for the explosion of new projects across the world, from Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Highline in New York to Herzog de Meuron’s Philarmonic Concert Hall in Hamburg.
The Pompidou Centre is not the most artful or even the most beautiful building of modern times, yet it turned the world of architecture upside down—and it changed forever the way we view and use our museums and galleries. By celebrating the…