Nestled in the centre of Paris since 1977, the Centre Pompidou building, a glass and metal structure bathed in light, resembles a heart fed by monumental arteries in bright primary colours. Envisioned by its two architects, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, as a genuinely living organism, it is also built in one of the capital’s oldest districts and the beating heart of Paris since Medieval times, the Beaubourg plateau.
The building extends over 10 levels of 7,500m2 each
- Length: 166m / width: 60m / height: 42m
- 12,210m2 devoted to the collections of the Musée national d’art moderne
- 5,900m2 devoted to temporary exhibitions
- 2 screening rooms (315 and 144 seats)
- A performance theatre (384 seats) and a conference room (158 seats)
- An associated public reading library (Bibliothèque Publique d'Information) of 10,400m2, accommodating up to 2,200 readers
- A museum documentation and research centre, the Kandinsky Library, open to researchers and covering a surface of 2,600m2
The strong presence of colour is one of the key features of the Centre Pompidou’s architecture.
Four bold colours, blue, red, yellow and green, enliven its facades and outline its structure according to a colour code devised by the architects:
- Blue for air flows (air-conditioning)
Yellow for electricity
Green for water circuits
Red for pedestrian flow (escalators and lifts).
The vast Piazza, firstly, which draws on the design of a Roman piazza, forms an integral part of the Centre Pompidou and serves as a strong link between the city and the building, thus enabling the most natural flow possible between the two spaces. The Forum was initially designed to open onto the Piazza, much like a railway station concourse. This design was impossible to produce, but the idea of an open space was conserved by adding a fully transparent glass facade to the Forum.
In this built-up district of Paris, the large rectangular outdoor space acts as a lung, a place of life where Parisians, tourists and onlookers cross paths. People come here to meet others, to stroll, to rest or contemplate their surroundings.
From the outside, the visual signature of the building is embodied by the huge mechanical escalator, known as the “caterpillar”, designed to serve as a vertical outdoor path. It is the primary artery of the Centre Pompidou, serving all levels and transporting the public upwards. Its transparency provides one of the finest views of Paris, and as you travel up, it seems as though you are still strolling through the city.
Inside, 6 levels provide fully modular plateaux of 7,000m2 each. They were designed to be organised according to needs and thus meet the requirements of a variety of activities and projects. The building embodies a radical vision in which spaces are no longer defined by their role.
The Forum, an immense 10-metre high area, is the visitor’s first encounter with creation. It was designed as a multi-purpose area, with the central hub leading to all the sections of the Centre Pompidou and allowing for free movement over three levels (-1, 0, 1).
In order to provide flexible use and adaptable volumes, all the systems (ventilation, electricity and water), lifts and escalators were located on the outside of the building and identified by colour code. Nothing is concealed, all the inner workings are visible from the outside. As for the framework, it was designed to resemble a huge construction toy. Features are repeated, interlocked and fitted together, to form a regular metal mechanism, fully exposed and painted white.
Initially nick-named "Notre Dame of the Pipes" by its critics, the Centre Pompidou has become one of the city's most photographed monuments, imposing its airiness and elegance in the Parisian landscape which it dominates from a height of some 50 metres.
Its logo captures this spirit. Five horizontal black lines alternating with white lines evoke the different levels and are crossed by two black zig-zagging stripes representing the caterpillar in the most minimalist blueprint of the facade and its unique features.
Created by designer Jean Widmer, and revamped in 2019, it is a reminder of how, forty years after its creation, the building remains an intrinsic part of Paris.
On the Piazza and outside of the usable volume, we grouped together all the facilities for visitor flow. On the opposite side, we concentrated all the technical installations and piping. Each level is therefore completely free and usable, for any form of known or future cultural activity.
Renzo Piano, architect of the Centre Pompidou
Since its inauguration in 1977, and along with social and cultural changes, its ongoing popularity with the public has led the Centre Pompidou to re-adapt its structure and its means in order to perpetuate its activity.
On 1st October 1997, the Centre Pompidou launched significant re-structuring works. Aimed at expanding, restoring and redesigning the spaces, as well as enhancing visitor comfort and access, these renovations embodied a desire to reassert the values and issues raised at the time of its creation.
The Centre Pompidou re-opened on 1st January 2000, revealing its transformation to the public.
The presentation of the Musée national d’art moderne collections now covers all of levels 4 and 5. Level 6 houses three areas devoted to temporary exhibitions. The Forum has been redesigned to create a more intuitive welcome area. The first basement level houses a centre devoted to performance art, debates and audio-visual activities.
These renovations also extended to the building’s facade and the creation of an access to the BPI on Rue Renard, while conserving an exit point towards the Forum, thus maintaining the link with the Centre’s other activities.
In the heart of Paris, a heart, a muscle, a pump breathing in and out in continuous beats, endlessly kindling, regularly and occasionally less regularly, moments of emotion and fever; a body in the shape of a hexagon, and further off, other bodies touching this one...and further away still, from touch to touch... I could go on forever; this is what should be, would be, will be and already is the Beaubourg building. Not so much a monument, more, to invent a word, a moviment.
Francis Ponge, L’Écrit Beaubourg, Paris, Editions of the Centre Georges-Pompidou, 1977