”I remember once standing outside the Pompidou on a rainy day and there was a small woman with an umbrella who offered me shelter. We started talking, as one does in the rain, and she asked: 'what do you think of this building?'"
"Stupidly, I said that I designed it and she hit me on the head with her umbrella. ”
To Richard Rogers it seemed that at one point, the whole of Paris detested anyone connected to creating the Georges Pompidou Centre.
“Young architects are immensely naive,” Rogers says. “I would never dream of (creating the George Pompidou Centre) now. We had a great client, but the press gave us hell. In seven years, there were only two positive articles. I don’t know how we got to the end.”
But everything changed once it opened. “It was successful, even if we made very little money out of it.”
The museum and multi-disciplinary cultural centre stands out from a distance, its brightly coloured pipes transverse the skin of the building creating a distinctive facade: it proudly wears its internal structure as an external celebration. The result of this design is a staggering amount of internal flexibility. The space inside the centre transforms on a regular basis to host a variety of different events and exhibitions.
The now much-loved Paris landmark was designed in the 1970s by two unknown upstarts – Rogers and Renzo Piano. Now they are two of the best known names in the industry. Piano has stayed strongly connected to building, with his office just around the corner. He feels like the Quasimodo of Beaubourg: “Every single bolt of the building, I have a sense of why it’s there. And when I see it now I wonder how they could ever have allowed us to do something like that…Putting this spaceship in the middle of Paris was a bit mad but an honest gesture. It was brave but also a bit impolite”
If Paris now had no such building, it would suffer more from the ossification that, in truth, is one of its weaknesses. The city would be more of a museum piece. As such, the Pompidou centre exemplifies the magically transformative nature of a great cultural icon: it is at once both popular and progressive, with the power to boost a city and change its image.