Georges Pompidou Centre

Georges Pompidou Centre (32)

The Georges Pompidou National Museum of Modern Art is one of the most emblematic buildings in Paris, both for its revolutionary appearance and for the passions that are raised both in favour of and against it. Although when it was built all opinion was against it. This museum is also known as the Beaubourg Centre or more popularly as the Pompidou Centre.

The museum unites the most innovative with the oldest. Rue Saint-Martin, which passes before the entrance, is one of the oldest streets in Paris, with more than 2,000 years of history. In this area during the Middle Ages bankers and traders met. Settling there they shaped the Beau Bourg, the “beautiful district”. These rich bankers would never have imagined that centuries later the area would fall into total decline and become one of the poorest districts in Paris. At the beginning of the 20th century the situation was unsustainable and the area was considered as being totally insalubrious. So it was decided not to leave a brick standing. For forty years, on the site that remained, it was a massive car park.

President Georges Pompidou wanted to revitalise the area. And he wanted to do it by consecrating one of his great passions: art. In 1970 he came up with the idea of creating a museum dedicated to contemporary art. With this project in mind, he opened an architecture tender. His words were, “I want with all my strength for a cultural centre to open in Paris which will be both a museum and a creative space”. 681 projects were presented to him from 49 countries. The winning proposal came from the Italians Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini and the Englishman Richard Rogers.

The idea cause a great stir as had occurred a century before with the Eiffel Tower, since it was very avant-garde. The project had metal structures and strident colours that left uncovered everything that in other buildings was concealed, such as pipes, heating pipes or stairways. In other words, all the innards, outside.

The construction work on the Pompidou Centre was undertaken between 1972 and 1977. It was opened by President Giscard d’Estaing on the 31st January 1977. The Parisians called it “the city refinery” or the "Notre Dame de la Tuyauterie" (Our Lady of the Pipes). Despite this, the museum was a great success and has been visited by more than 150 million people since it opened.

The building is rectangular in shape and measures 166 metres in length, 60 metres in width and is 42 metres deep. The façades are glass and the metallic structure is perfectly visible. On the east façade, the back part facing Rue du Renard, one can see the guttering painted in blue, green, yellow or red, according to whether they transported air, water, electricity or serve as lifts or service stairways. The big white chimneys that appear over the square facing the museum are underground ventilation conduits as are those over the ceiling.

The west façade, which is on Rue Saint-Martin, is crossed diagonally by a transparent mechanical stairway that leads to the different floors of the museum. It also provides an interesting view of Paris as you climb up. 

The museum has a total of seven floors including the basement and the terrace.

And what does it mean having its innards outside? Something so simple and valuable as having a practically hollow space throughout the interior, a large open-plan space of 7,500 square meters on each floor. Thus its organisation would be much easier and would also enable future reforms.

At levels 2 and 3 is the Public Information Library, as well as diverse exhibition rooms of modern and contemporary art. Also here is the Childen’s Gallery, a space in which the youngest members of the family can be introduced to the meaning of art. Levels 4 and 5 house the rooms of the National Museum of Modern Art and in which only part of the 50,000 works that form the full collection are on show.

And as if that were not enough, the museum has a cinema, conference rooms, shows and concerts. Also, on level 6 there is a room reserved for temporary exhibitions and you will also find a bookshop and a restaurant, the George, which from the terrace will give you a splendid view of Paris.

To the south of the building, in the Place Igor Stravinsky, you will be able to see some ingenious mechanical fountains, with skeletons, dragons, some enormous lips... created by Jean Tinguely and Niki de SantPhalle in homage to the composer of The Firebird, and which bring a touch more of brilliance to the whole. 

Additionally, to the west of the cultural centre, the Place Georges Pompidu and the surrounding pedestrian-only streets attract street artists, musicians, jugglers... all in all an area of great creativity that you just cannot miss. 

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