The Pompidou Centre in Paris: one of the most visited museums in France. The iconic landmark is ideally situated in the 4th arrondissement at the heart of the French capital. Since its inauguration in 1977, the futuristic building has been the source of many criticisms, some called it an eyesore, others praised its high-tech architecture made up of colourful pipes and massive steel struts. To better understand why the radical building attracts thousands of visitors each day, here are a few facts and figures that you should know when visiting the Pompidou Centre!
UPDATE! The Pompidou Centre in Paris will close at the end of 2023 for four years of renovations. It will then undergo a €200 million top-to-bottom overhaul. Administrators hope to reopen the centre in 2027 in time for its 50th anniversary.
The origins of the Pompidou Centre
The Cultural centre project was born from a declaration made by French President Georges Pompidou in 1969: “I passionately want Paris to have a cultural centre which will be both a museum and a creative centre“.
The location chosen for the cultural centre was a wasteland at the heart of Paris, a place called Beaubourg. Pompidou’s dream became reality after his death (1974). The cultural complex was officially opened on 31 January 1977 by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
If there are two names to remember about the Pompidou Centre’s construction, they would be those of its architects:
- Richard Rogers, a British architect (born 1933) who is also known for his work on the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Millenium Dome in London.
- Renzo Piano, an Italian architect (born 1937) who is also known for designing the Shard in London (2012).
What is so special about the Pompidou Centre
The architects wanted to free up space inside the building by placing all service equipment outside. That’s why it looks like a building turned inside out. As architect Renzo Piano recalls, he wished to “put the inside-outside, and show the inner workings“. The enormous cube was meant to be “a building which will not be a monument but a celebration, a big urban toy“.
The colour-coding of the Pompidou Centre’s pipes
Now if you face the Pompidou Centre from rue Beaubourg, it will be clear to you. You’ll understand how this ‘inside-out museum‘ was designed to free up maximum gallery space within it. Walls and internal structures were put outside the building, and infrastructure was covered by enormous colourful tubes. The bright colour codes help distinguishing the various functions of the pipes:
- the water pipes are green
- the air-conditioning ducts are blue
- the electricity lines are yellow
- the funnels (ventilation shafts for the underground areas) are white
- the escalators and other areas dedicated to human traffic are red
You may like it or not… but you have to agree that the façade is an outstanding piece of architecture from the late 20th century. The tangle of pipes and tubes covering the glass and steel framework of the building earned it the nicknames of ‘the Gasworks‘, ‘an oil refinery‘, ‘a ship in the dock‘, ‘a cultural supermarket‘, ‘Notre-Dame of the Pipes‘, ‘Pompidolium‘ or ‘avant-garde eyesore‘. A journalist wrote in Le Figaro newspaper: “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness“.
The transparent escalator
The outside escalator climbs the front of the building like a lighted snake. Enclosed in a transparent Plexiglass tunnel, it gives access to the Modern Art museum, the panoramic terrace and the Georges restaurant.
The cultural complex of the Pompidou Centre
The Pompidou Centre is a cultural complex that houses:
- the National Museum of Modern Art (Musée national d’Art moderne) on the 4th and 5th levels. This is the largest modern art museum in Europe. It comes second in the world after MOMA in New York.
- the Public Information Library (Bibliothèque publique d’information, or BPI) on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd levels. This vas library is popular with Parisians as it opens late.
- the Institute for Acoustic and Musical Research (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, or IRCAM) is situated underground beneath the place Stravinski.
- the temporary exhibition halls are located on the 1st and 6th levels.
- the bookshop is located on level 0, a design shop and a café are on level 1.
- the fashionable Georges restaurant is on level 6, as is the panoramic terrace.
A few words on the National Museum of Modern Art
A visit to the National Museum of Modern Art will give a complete overview of modern and contemporary art.
The museum displays modern collections from 1905, including 50,000 works and objects from more than 42,000 artists. Many Schools represented in the museum include movements such as:
- Fauvism (1905-1910, Derain, Marquet, Dufy and Matisse),
- Cubism (1900s, Braque, Picasso),
- Dada (1910s, 1920s, Duchamp),
- Paris School (1910s-1930s, Soutine, Chagall, Modigliani),
- Abstract School (from the 1910s, Kandinsky, Kupka, Mondrian, Klee), and
- Surrealism (1920s, De Chirico, Dalì, Ernst, Magritte, Brauner, Masson, Tanguy, Giacometti, Picasso, Mirò).
There is so much to see from paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs, not forgetting other media such as cinema, architecture, design, and visual and sound archives.
If you head towards North-Eastern France, don’t miss the Pompidou Centre Metz, a provincial branch of the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated in 2010 in the Lorraine city of Metz.
The panoramic terrace
The outside escalator leads you to the 6th and top floor where you can enjoy one of Paris’ best panoramic views. Above the rooftops of Paris, you’ll recognise the Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse, Montmartre and the business district of La Défense.
Also called Place Georges Pompidou, the vast piazza is a pedestrian-only square. It slopes gently down to the main entrance to the cultural centre.
Large crowds of visitors and passers-by gather to watch the street performers: mimes and jugglers.
How to get to the Pompidou Centre
- The Pompidou centre is situated in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, not far from Les Halles, the Paris City Hall and Place du Châtelet.
- Access to the centre is at the bottom of the piazza, place Georges Pompidou.
- Closest métro stations: Rambuteau (line 11), Hôtel de Ville (lines 1 & 11) or Les Halles (for RER A, B and C).
- The official Website of the Pompidou Centre.
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