Renzo Piano & Richard Rogers
Beaubourg-Effect… Beaubourg-Machine… Beaubourg-Thing — how can we name it? The puzzle of this carcass of signs and flux, of networks and circuits… the ultimate gesture toward translation of an unnameable structure: that of social relations consigned to a system of surface ventilation (animation, self-regulation, information, media) and an in-depth, irreversible implosion. A monument to mass simulation effects, the Centre functions like an incinerator, absorbing and devouring all cultural energy, rather like the black monolith of 2001 — a mad convection current for the materialization, absorption and destruction of all the contents within it.
The neighbourhood all around is merely a buffer zone, recoated, disinfected by snobbish and hygienic design, psychologically. It’s a vacuum-making machine, somewhat like nuclear power centres. Their real danger lies not in lack of safety, pollution, explosion, but in the maximum-security system that radiates from them, the zone of surveillance and deterrence that spreads by degrees over the entire terrain — a technical, ecological, economic, geopolitical buffer zone. What does the nucleus matter? The centre is a matrix for developing a model of absolute security, subject to generalization on all social levels, one that is most profoundly a model of deterrence. (It is the very same one that serves to regulate us globally under the sign of peaceful coexistence and the simulation of atomic peril.)
With allowances made for scale, the same model is developed through the Centre: cultural fission, political deterrence. This being said, the circulation of fluids is uneven. All the traditional fluids — exhaust, coolant, electricity — flow smoothly. But already the circulation of human masses is less assured (the archaic solution of escalators moving through plastic tubes… they should have used suction, propulsion, or what have you, some kind of motion in the image of that baroque theatricality of flux which makes for the originality of the carcass). And as for the stock — works of art, objects, books — as well as the so-called polyvalent interior workspace: there the flow has stopped entirely. The deeper you penetrate into the interior, the less circulation you find. It’s the exact opposite of Roissy, where after moving through a space-age, futuristic design radiating outward from a centre, you end up prosaically at… ordinary airplanes. But the incoherence is the same. (And what of money, that other fluid, what of its mode of circulation, emulsion and fall-out in Beaubourg?)
The contradiction prevails even in the behaviour of the personnel assigned to the ‘polyvalent’ space and thus with no private place to work. Standing and on the move, the staff effects a laid-back, flexible style: very high-tech, very adapted to the ‘structure’ of a ‘modern’ space. But seated in their cubicles which aren’t really even cubicles, they strain to secrete an artificial solitude, to spin themselves a bubble. Here is another fine strategy of deterrence: they are condemned to expend all their energy on this individual defensive. Here again we find the real contradiction at the centre of the Beaubourg-Thing: a fluid commutative exterior — cool and modern — and an interior uptight with old values.
This space of deterrence, linked to the ideology of visibility, transparency polyvalence, consensus, contact, and sanctioned by the threat to security, is virtually that of all social relations today. The whole of social discourse is there and on both this level and that of cultural manipulation, Beaubourg is — in total contradiction to its stated objectives — a brilliant monument of modernity. There is pleasure in the realization that the idea for this was generated not by a revolutionary mind, but by logicians of the establishment wholly lacking in critical spirit, and thus closer to the truth, capable, in their very obstinacy, of setting up a basically uncontrollable mechanism, which even by its success escapes them and offers, through its very contradictions, the most exact reflection possible of the present state of affairs.
Location: Paris, France
Type: Infrastructure, Museum, Public Space
Clients: Ministère des Affaires Culturelles - Ministère de l’Education Nationale
Cost: 58’000’000 £
Gross Internal Area: 100’000 m²
Structural & Services Engineer: Ove Arup & Partners
Mechanical Services & Superstructure: Laurie Abbott - Shunji Ishida - Hiroshi Naruse - Hiroyuki Takahashi
Mechanical Engineer: Walter Zbinden - Hans-Peter Bysaeth - Johanna Lohse - Peter Merz - Philippe Dupont
Interior Design: Gianfranco Franchini
Text: Jean Baudrillard, The Beaubourg-Effect: Implosion and Deterrence, 1982
Photography: Michel Denancé - Gianni Berengo Gardin