Dominique Perrault Architecture - Centre Georges Pompidou
Questions at Dominique Perrault or Questions at an Exhibition
For artists, exhibitions are essential steps in their careers. Is it the
same for architects?
It’s very different. For architects,
exhibitions are not the sine qua non of professional activity; they’re not any
kind of necessary seal of approval. Let’s say that for an architect an
exhibition forces one to define the past, to organize the future. What’s interesting
for me it is that the Centre Pompidou, who decided to program this exhibition,
didn’t want it to be a first show or a retrospective. It’s more of a
freeze-frame on an ongoing development.
How do you think of it? A chronological presentation, a tour – from one
building to another, one country to another – a manifesto, a narrative?
None of those things, really.
Frédéric Migayrou, curator of the exhibition, would like to present more of a
survey than a chronology, a tour or a manifesto. In fact, the intention here is
much more dialectical than narrative. And this dialectical ambition in fact finds
expression right at the beginning of the exhibition, in the juxtaposition of
the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the New Mariinsky Theatre in Saint
Petersburg. For more than ten years now the BNF has overshadowed and obscured
all the other work we’ve done, whether in France or abroad. In the design of
the exhibition, the BNF takes its place like an epigraph on the first page of a
book. While the chosen phrase expresses or illuminates the author’s approach,
it doesn’t and can’t replace the whole of the text. In addition, this
juxtaposition of the Library and the Theatre also testifies to our intention
not to content ourselves with mere style, to restrict ourselves to a single
And in terms of chronology, the exhibition isn’t limited to 1997
either, but evokes a wealth of other significant dates.
An exhibition does nonetheless imply a path through it, from one thing
to another. However fragmented or even illogical this might be, how have you
tried to organize it?
First of all there’s the place of
the exhibition within the building as a whole. The space gives onto the street
on three sides. So I wanted it to be possible to take the measure of things
even from outside. Then, inside, there isn’t a logic of progression but a logic
of place. And just as if this were a specific space, that has to be entered, I
wanted to create a sort of vestibule, a kind of filter. The visitor navigates
through screens of the metal mesh that is central to my architecture. These
aren’t authoritative, impenetrable, separating walls. What they do is create
permeability, interrelationship. So from the beginning there’s an abolition of
enclosure in favor of transition, motion.
And you rediscover this same metal
mesh, this same technology, being deployed to break the far wall into nine
sections, used to screen the 13 films that Richard Copans has made about
different individual projects. A way of discovering real architecture, as it
lived in construction and as it is experienced by users. In addition, this 32-metre-long
wall with its nine 3 x 2 metre screens is clearly visible from the outside,
because the whole exhibition is designed as a low-level display.
Questions at Dominique Perrault or Questions at an Exhibition, Part 2
What are the fundamental principles of the [exhibition]
on four key elements. There are the metal mesh and the screens that I’ve just
talked about. In addition to these, there’s a series of large, low tables in a
staggered arrangement across the whole gallery space.
tables, drawings, models and materials are displayed alongside each other, and
there are also screens showing other films, this time on different themes. Each
table may present a single project, or a number grouped together by strategy or
concept or technique, or indeed by contrast. Once again, these groupings are
determined not by chronology or form, but by what I call a relational logic.
on each of the 20 tables there’s a big, one-meter-square, double-sided
light-box showing the sites in question, so that visitors can grasp the urban
context, the natural environment, the geographical reality. And I want to
insist again, that although everything is properly dated, to mark the temporal
relationships, there is nothing chronological in the organization.
What would you say are the high points, the key
points of the exhibition?
the confrontation at the very beginning between the Bibliothèque Nationale de
France and the New Mariinsky Theatre is one of them. Some will see in this an
opposition between an uncompromising rigor and a kind of Baroque. And all the
way through one encounters other confrontations, other oppositions. But things
are never as simple or as clear as one thinks. What is at issue is a
dialectical relationship to architecture and its meaning, to its symbolism and
its reality, to its essential nature as the agent of a continuous territorial
transformation, remaking the urban fabric and unsettling our perceptions.
That’s one way of saying that the geographical aspect of architecture has
overtaken the historical.
this series of confrontations is a way of showing that architectural expression
is not necessarily a matter of a single style, that the role of an architect is
not to put his stamp on a project, to impose his own style, but to take account
of the complexity and specificity of each situation. Hence the attempt to bring
out a conceptual rather than an aesthetic logic.
So rather than a mere survey, for you this
exhibition is an opportunity to express a style of thinking, a way of working?
All the more so in that the exhibition was commissioned, designed and realized
in a very short time. And there’s a fundamental correspondence, at some level,
between this extreme condensation of space-time and our normal way of working.
firm, there is no hierarchy of registers, disciplines, materials... Everything
happens simultaneously, synchronically.
that in architecture lead-times are long and that the life of a building is
projected far into the future, but speed is what drives the design process. We
are always in movement, engaged in research and experiment on topics that may
be clearly articulated or still in some sense unconscious. Our activity, our
ongoing work has no discrete beginning or end. At bottom, what we are trying to
get across in this exhibition is that architecture is not an object, or a
collection of objects, but a substance. And this substance we define and form
with the tools that are the very heart and body of this exhibition.
rather than beautiful images or objects, striking photographs or models, we
wanted to show, to make visible and understandable, the tools and the methods
of our everyday work, to capture the essence of urban and architectural design
– as practiced by us, at any rate.