After recently publishing his book, A Place for All People: Life, Architecture and the Fair Society, Lord Richard Rogers sat down with The Architect's Newspaper Managing Editor Olivia Martin to discuss modernity, cities, buildings, Manhattan, and his infamous sense of color. What does modernism mean to you? It could be contemporary. People get mixed up. I always say everything is contemporary in its age—good buildings and good books, those are contemporary in their time and they tend to reflect the period… if you are lucky they get ahead of it, they push it a little bit. Good buildings are a reflection of their place, culture, politics. Modernism is more than a movement. Did you always know you wanted to be an architect? Did you ever have any sort of ideological struggle with modernism? Well, I come from architecture. My cousin is a well-known architect. My mother was a potter and my father was a doctor and you put the two together and you get an architect. When I was young, I was less sure. But I went to Yale to do my graduate work and I had, without a doubt, the greatest architecture scholar ever: Vincent Scully. Nobody changed my life as much as he. And I was just stunned coming here [to New York City]. I was a Fulbright Scholar and we came over on the Queen Elizabeth. So I left Southampton, a sleepy town, where nothing is more than four stories high and people had their caps and bicycles. It was all very nice and English. Then I woke up early the next morning and looked out at the porthole and WOW. That’s the vision, out of all the visions I’ve ever had in my life, that has really stayed with me. It lifts me whenever I think about it. Wall Street didn’t exist at that point, so Midtown was the high point. It was fantastic, it blew my mind away. In terms of modernity, I’ve never had any problems with it. Modernity was born in that postwar period in the states. Chicago was fantastic and beautiful, but everything was happening here [in New York]. I have to say it’s not the same now; it has changed. Certainly we have gotten more used to it. Partly though, I think it’s because the most typical building in Manhattan is an office building and architects have done them so often they can do it with their eyes closed… Not all, you can’t say that, there are some amazing American architects. But there are quite a few. New York is on a grid and so you’ve got the grid, core in the middle, sometimes glass, sometimes stone, but all the same in variation. It is still a stunning city but it has lost that amazing shock that it once had for me. You have some very iconic building typologies, notably your penchant for an exoskeleton of sorts, could you discuss that? For Lloyd’s Insurance of London, we won the competition even though we had not built any office buildings before, which is amazingly daring. We said that if you put the core in the middle, you are putting it in the center where you want activity. We push it to the outside, which lets you play with form and light and shadow—which is what architecture is about. Otherwise, buildings are all flat. They are. There is no greater flat building in the world than the Seagram, so I am not saying that Mies isn’t great, I learned so much from Mies. But by articulating corners, doors… I like trying to put much of the workings on the outside because otherwise they get in the way. Any typologies you haven’t been able to realize? Oh many, many, many. I would say that now New York, which does have such stunning towers, is no longer cutting-edge... probably at cutting it in pure straight functions in dollars per square foot. That they are very good at. And obviously the people who run these jobs—we are just finishing now at Ground Zero—are immensely professional, but it makes life difficult for the architect when the client says, “I know EXACTLY what I want, more or less.” It often pushes the architect into a narrower response. If New York isn’t the most cutting edge, where is? Yesterday I was a judge of the Pritzker Prize and we made the choice—can’t talk about it. But, it was extremely interesting, the number of Indian architects and Southern American architects, there are architects dealing with problems like housing for the poor and working with immensely exciting new materials and places and responding to this. In that sense, it is better it is broader. I can phone and e-mail as easily as I can go next door. The digital is global. So on the one hand the world is getting smaller… Politically, well, let’s not discus it. So developing countries have better architecture? They have a better chance. Looking at your dress, it’s not about the most expensive, it’s about looking good, feeling good, and feeling it fits you. [Editor’s Note: My dress is from Zara.] I think there is more change now. My book is partly about inequality. In fact I suppose it’s a key piece of it and we are going through an amazingly unequal time. There is a greater gap in the GDP than ever before. The world is changing and becoming a micro-system and this has created tremendous political unrest. Another issue I talk about is sustainability. In architecture, it’s about loose fit, long life. Lloyd’s is an example of loose fit. They wanted a good building that would last them into the future. Since we built that, 50 percent of the city has been demolished and rebuilt because needs change. Energy systems change. Renzo Piano and I built the Pompidou Center forty years ago and the air conditioning system has changed, so we are in the process of updating it. So, there are still problems, but we don’t have to empty the building or start over, so they are better problems. I know you don’t love Los Angeles or Houston, or really any car-centric cities. But with autonomous cars on the rise, do you think those types of cities can evolve? Well, a sprawling city will consume three times more energy than a compact one. And if climate change is the most likely thing to really blow us up, that is something we should pay attention to. Of course if you want to live in the countryside you should live there, but in energy terms, it is more efficient to live in the city. People also like to see other people. I know lots of people in Los Angeles who like it, so this is not the law, just my opinion. I love bumping into people and the piazza and I think that is such an important thing. I have a piazza in my house. It’s a really good square where you can be on your own with your thoughts or with other people. Plus, not everyone has access to a car, even in Los Angeles. Many cities now, including London, are making the streets smaller, more friendly to the non-car. We still need better transport, it’s not as good as it should be. What are some of your favorite buildings (not built by you?) I can’t do that. I can talk about types of buildings. Yesterday I was outside the Seagram Building, it is still a fantastic building. I learned two things during that period in the States. I learned a lot from your industrial plants. I loved to see how very flexible and dynamic they were, not just a square box with windows in it. Why do we encase structure? If you want to change it, then you have to rip it up. Air conditioning, for example, is changing at a fast rate. Buildings have to be able to respond, so I look for responsive buildings and industrial buildings. I also studied the Case Study houses in Los Angeles. They taught me a lot about housing fast, cheaply, and flexibly. You are known for your colorful outfits. How do you decide what to wear? I was brought up with a mother who would wear brightly colored socks when she came to pick me up from school and everybody would laugh. Growing up that way, I didn’t suffer from shock of the new. And then England was very gray and we had to ration. And visually, the British don’t have a very good color sense to begin with, great ear, good at writing, we all have different strengths…. But I come from a country with a lot of color all around me. I’ve always enjoyed color–like public space–although public space is probably better.
Posts tagged with "Pompidou Center":
Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ culture factory for the people: a building that at 40 years old, still looks to the future.
"Life begins at forty!" say most with a glint in their eye and a glass of bubbly in raised hand. That phrase though, belongs to those who know they will not live much past twice that age—if they're lucky. Inaugurated to the public in Paris on January 31, 1977, and celebrating its 40th birthday today is The Pompidou Center. Its architects, however, imagine a far greater lifespan for their building: Renzo Piano hopes it will last for two millennia. "We believe that the life of this building will be 2,000 years so we don’t care so much about 40 years," said Piano speaking to Rowan Moore in The Observer. "The Colosseum is still there so I don’t see why it won’t be still there." Both Italian-born architects, Piano and Richard Rogers (the latter settling in England during WWII) led the design team behind the now iconic building. The pair worked alongside architects Gianfranco Franchini and John Young, also from Italy and Britain respectively, as well as Arup engineers. Though much-loved and well-visited today, the Pompidou Center suffered a rocky start when completed forty years ago. "Not many outside the charmed circle of modern architecture have even heard of Archigram and of its apocalyptic struggles in an unresponsive society," said Reyner Banham in the year of the Pompidou's opening. "...You don’t go to Paris to look at post-Corbusian modern architecture. Why then was the [Pomoidou Center] built to this sort of design?" he questioned. Back then, as it still does so today, the Pompidou rises up above the enclaves of its Haussmannian surroundings of Paris' 4th arrondissement. Tall buildings in the French capital are seldom met with open arms and the 149-foot-tall structural behemoth was no exception. Despite its sheer mass detracting from this notion (it's 544 feet long and 197 feet wide), even President Pompidou who commissioned the building was struck. Rogers recalled his reaction: "all he said was “Ça va faire crier” [This is going to make a noise]." The flower-power foursome, however, weren't deterred. Building on the radical architecture conceptualized by Archigram (Plug-in City) and Cedric Price (Fun Palace), and even built by Eb Zeidler (Ontario Place), Rogers and Piano sought to propose an essentially living building. Within their monumental megastructure, floors would move up and down, escalators would propel visitors up the side of the facade and screens would display messages to the masses. The Pompidou Center was to be a factory of culture. (Interestingly, Piano used this metaphor to describe his science center for Columbia University completed last year.) Sadly, only the escalators prevailed, but the structure remained an icon of "inside-out" and "high-tech" architecture. It's active facade, visibly alive with visitors milling around, also showcases an array of structural detailings. With this external framework set for an amalgamation of complexities, Piano and Rogers originally planned for the structure to be able to have parts easily added to and taken away. The factory would change with technology. This too, however, was never realized. Their approach also perhaps reflects part of Piano's childhood past. Growing up, his four other brothers were all builders. In an interview with The New Yorker, Piano recalled how his father questioned his teenage desire to be an architect and not a builder. "Keeping the action together with the conception is maybe a way to feel less guilty," he contemplated in 1994. The ideas found in the Pompidou can still be seen in Piano's work today. Extensive fenestration, openness, and proud and explicit tectonics are all prevalent themes throughout his projects. Perhaps this is because he sees the Pompidou Center more than most architects. The office of his namesake's firm (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) and even his apartment are located in the Marais District, a few blocks from the former Center Beaubourg site. While massive in scale though, the Pompidou Center doesn't fill all the space it was allocated. A sloping plaza which backs onto a series of unmissable air vents (which, in turn, outline the perimeter footprint of the center) allows the public to watch the goings on inside. In fact, 118,400 square feet of glass was used to compose the plaza-facing facade. On the roof, visitors can still enjoy vistas over Paris in all directions, taking in rare views over rooftops and onto the Eiffel Tower. Such egalitarian ideas had roots in Rogers' architectural education. Under the leftist stewardship of Paul Rudolph and Buckminster Fuller, Rogers studied at Yale where he befriended fellow compatriot Norman Foster. Foster later went on to design high-tech architecture evocative of the Pompidou Center himself (see the Renault Distribution Center, 1982), reaching similar architectural heights in the process. The left-leaning ideas Rogers ingested, meanwhile, manifested in his and Piano's only collaboratively designed work. This was no chance occurrence. The pair felt they could win the favor of Jean Prouvé, a member of the awarding jury who preferred social housing to extravagant culture palaces. “We saw that it might also be about ethics, people, society," said Piano. "We were young but we were not stupid. We saw some sign of a possible miracle.” (Side note: Philip Johnson was also a jury member) Rogers' and Piano's meeting, however, was arguably more fortuitous. In 1969, when at the Architectural Association in London presenting his exhibit on light-weight structures, Piano bumped into a doctor for whom Rogers had designed a dwelling. The doctor, while worried one of his sons had given Rogers chicken pox, took Piano to meet Rogers. Rogers would later describe Piano and himself as "probably as close together in outlook as any two architects around." They both went on to win the Pritzker Prize. 1969 was a momentous year for many reasons. Warren Chalk of Archigram wrote an article titled: “Owing to lack of interest, tomorrow has been cancelled.” A riff on Irene Kampen's title, Chalk inferred the diminishing possibilities of a technological, utopian architecture. In France, Georges Pompidou was announced as President. As Banham suggested, Pompidou probably hadn't read Chalk's brooding, and so threw caution to the wind. With the dust still settling from the 1968 May riots which had brought social upheaval, a snap election and a veer to the left, Pompidou furthered former President's Charles de Gaulle's idea for a free library on the Plateau Beaubourg in Paris. Pompidou also demanded that the building also became a center for the contemporary arts as the French capital feared its waning prowess in the art world. A competition was launched and 681 entrants from 49 countries saw their chance. Piano, Rogers, Young and Franchini—all in their early thirties—emerged as the unlikely victors. The group's submission, like Piano and Rogers' meeting, also rode its luck as it erred on the verge of not happening at all. Rogers opposed the idea of submitting, being more interested in a competition for a smaller museum in Glasgow. In what Piano described as a "beautiful little memo," Rogers outlined his case. "Being an old lefty, I didn't believe in a centralized, government-run art center, and certainly not one built in the heart of Paris," he said in 1994. Thankfully Piano, structural engineer Ted Happold, and Rogers' former wife Su were able to twist his arm. While its initial ill-favor is well documented, one wonders if the reaction would have been different had the Pompidou Center been completed earlier. With the spirit of '68 still fresh in everyone's minds, its values would have been both more apparent and relevant. Georges Pompidou did not live to see the building's completion and was not there to vouch for it. A decade after the center was built, however, another president, Francois Mitterrand, also shared Piano and Rogers' skyward vision. In 1987, Mitterand inaugurated a clock that counted down to the end of the century. "A nation must orient its gaze toward the future," he said. While that milestone has passed, no one has yet put a clock to countdown to the Pompidou Center's 2,000th birthday. A two-year renovation in 2000 saw enlargements made to the center's performance spaces, museum, and restaurant. Though this also resulted in visitors having to pay to use the exterior escalators, the center hasn't lost its appeal. At forty, the culture factory is still functioning. Still the biggest museum for modern art in Europe—boasting more than 50,000 works from 5,000 artists—the Pompidou Center continues to attract tourists in their droves—averaging around 3.8 million a year—from France and across the world.
CTC realized Piano's design concept by designing and fabricating a cladding system of a structural steel tube framework covered by extensive FRP panels.For his design of the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Renzo Piano revived an idea he first explored with Richard Rogers in their design of the Centre George Pompidou in Paris: the idea of the building as an organic breathing machine. At Pompidou, the architects turned the museum’s mechanical systems into expressive elements, color coding the pipes, ducts, gantries, and escalators and pulling them to the exterior of the structure. At the Resnick Pavilion, Piano located the mechanical rooms and air handling units prominently outside the four corners of the 45,000-square-foot building, applying cladding to the ductwork in a bright red color used in circulation corridors throughout the LACMA campus. Piano turned to Capastrano Beach, California-based design/build firm CTC (Creative Teknologies Corporation) to realize his design concept. “We took in data from three parties,” said CTC president Eric Adickes. “Piano gave us perspective sketches of how he wanted the air handling units to look, the air conditioning contractor, Acco, gave us Revit drawings, and the general contractor, MATT Construction, gave us 2D Autocad documents of the building and concrete foundation.” From those sources, CTC developed 3D models of a cladding system for the ventilation ducts using CATIA. The cladding system includes a structural steel framework that bolts to the ductwork, and fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) cladding that attaches to the steel. CTC coordinated with Piano’s office to refine the profiles of the system to achieve the architect’s vision. “Piano wanted flat surfaces with radiuses,” said Adickes. “FRP behaves in ways that you have to compensate for shrinkages and the material loosing its shape. If you’re not careful it can change its shape and not be what you think it’s going to be in the end result.” In order to ensure the flat-plane look, CTC relied on techniques commonly used in automotive construction, giving the material intentional crowns of as much as an inch or more. This technique applied double curves to all of the panels, which are as large as 10 feet by 15 feet. The intentional crowns produce the illusion of flatness and avoid any unintentional oil canning or puffing in the material, which would give the cladding a cheap appearance. “It’s part of the trade,” said Adickes. “You have to know the material to tactfully build the crowns in so you don’t go to far or too little.” Once Piano signed off on the models, CTC fed the CATIA data into its CNC routers, which cut the profiles from the FRP panels. CTC also installed the cladding system, attaching the steel structure to the ductwork and the FRP panels to the steel. Once installed, the firm painted the panels on-site.