Ce que le Centre Pompidou aurait pu être


Ahmet Gulgonen, Kemal Aran, Selahattin Onur, Metin Demiray [Turquie]. Projet primé, 1971. Project n°680 presented to the competition for the Centre Beaubourg

The Centre Georges Pompidou is one of the most renown architectural works of the 20th Century. It has been said that Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers were influenced by Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, but neither Piano or Rogers had never confirmed this point. Although without any comments by the architects who won the competition, it’s a fact that Price’s project has deeply influenced architecture of those days. We can read at Mute Magazine:

Between 1963 and 1965 avant-garde architecture and theatre combined to produce plans for a cybernetic gesamtkunstwerk. The prime movers in this populist Xanadu were theatre impresario Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price. Where Littlewood had interests in the immediacy of agit-prop and Brechtian theatre, Price was inspired by Buckminster Fuller and the writings of Reyner Banham. Price’s designs for this ‘Fun Palace’ quickly settled into a formula: a rectangular shed with a membrane roof, the space divided up by rows of service towers set out in an interlocking grid.

Maye we can find here the first statements of a complete cultural centre as the Pompidou is now.


Fun Palace by Cedric Price. Source: Hacedor de Trampas

In the current times, all of us are really used to recognize that mostly all of the new projects to be build in different cities goes through international competitions. But this is not a new trend. In 1970, an international architectural competition was launched to find the right architect to design the Centre National d’art et de Culture Georges Pompidou. It was based on a program aimed at achieving the objectives set by President Georges Pompidou and drawn up by the Sébastien Loste team. The commission who was responsible for picking the architect included the internationally renowned architect Jean Prouve. 681 teams of architects from around the world participated and sent their projects, and all forms of building were considered, starting with the classic ones to the most avant-garde.

As Mark Crinson pointed, “The originality of Rogers and Piano’s Beaubourg ‘consisted, above all, in the banning of all originality, all ornaments, all slickness… a return to the multi-coloured nuts and bolts, [by] these lost sons of Mies, nostalgic for their first Meccano.”

The architects selected by the jury were Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, assisted by Ove Arup and Partners. But as the Pompidou Centre has been widely studied until now, we just wanted to show some of the other proposals about that Centre Pompidou that could have been:


Francisco Palacio, Manuel Rul, Benjamin Savage [Mexique], 1971. Project n°155 presented to the competition for the Centre Beaubourg


Terrance J. Waters [Etats-Unis], 1971. Project n°166 presented to the competition for the Centre Beaubourg


Claude Guilbert, Christian Belser, Alain Challier [France], 1971. Project n°19 presented to the competition for the Centre Beaubourg

It’s always interesting to go back in time and take a look again to some old proposals for a building that is part of our every day life and try to imagine how it could have been if different approaches were considered.

Just taking a look at these old images, is possible to understand what Luca Frei describes on his book The so-called utopia of the centre beaubourg – An interpretation, when he talks about a world turned upside down, which it’s seventy-six storeys submerged beneath the official centre for culture provide a platform for alternative modes of work and creation. Would it have been possible with proposals as L’Œuf by André Bruyère?


André Bruyère [France], 1971. Project n°272 presented to the competition for the Centre Beaubourg


L’Œuf by André Bruyère. Source dpr-barcelona

We want to finish with an installation done by Celine Condorelli in 2007, the So-called Utopia:

40 years have passed since this part of the centre was inaugurated, and still i get asked to give my account of the experience which, at best, was considered a utopia, but more often an attempt to sabotage our culture, a threat to the fundamental values of our society… Re-reading the newspapers of that time, the sarcasm of those on the right and the annoyed scepticism of the ones on the left, remembering the interventions of the parliamentarians, demanding for the orgies and the sacrilege to be stopped, remembering the offended academics and the outraged parents, remembering the outcry of the bishops and the bitterness of the censors…

But don’t worry, I do not intend to come back on these subjects and all that has been said and written since; once utopia began to appear less foolish, thinkers started to engage with it anew, analysing it, dissecting it, conceptualising it, lacanising it, demonstrating in short that it was not in fact a true utopia, but just nonsense and emptiness.


La Bataille du Centre. Source Support Structure

And while Condorelli goes on and says that it is useless to attract attention to such rubbish, to the elaborations against it and for it: it would suffice to go to any library to find everything that has been printed on the subject. We think is not enough, maybe we need projects like her So-called Utopia or simply take a look at old archives of documentation with new eyes to imagine all that could have been.

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Thanks to @laperiferia for this tweet
All the images of the competition were taken from Découvrir l’architecture du Centre Pompidou

UPDATE | Yesterday we published this post and due to the wonders of networking, we have some updates to add in a tumblr post. Thanks to our friends from Pkmn and their wonderful blog Arqueología del Futuro and Como Crear Historias.

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