The 'Beaubourg Moment': Movement and the Temporality of Architecture

Holden, Susan (2013). The 'Beaubourg Moment': Movement and the Temporality of Architecture PhD Thesis, School of Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Holden, Susan
Thesis Title The 'Beaubourg Moment': Movement and the Temporality of Architecture
School, Centre or Institute School of Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2013
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 339
Language eng
Subjects 1901 Art Theory and Criticism
1201 Architecture
Formatted abstract
This dissertation explores the intersection of a concept – movement – and a project - the design of the Centre National d’Art et du Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, known popularly as Beaubourg. The Centre Pompidou was designed through an international competition won by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Ove Arup in 1971. It is one of the most iconic and important buildings of the twentieth century. Despite this, little new thinking has been brought to bear on the building since it opened in 1977. Existing literature on the Centre Pompidou recognises it as one of the few buildings to emerge from the techno-utopian experimental practices in architectural culture from the 1960s. Piano and Rogers’ winning competition design was for a kinetic complex that could be reconfigured on various time-scales, facilitating programmatic flexibility and public spectacle. While aspects of this intended movability remained unrealised, the building is well known for its open, tectonic, structural frame, the visual dynamism of its exoskeleton of services and the movement of the escalators on its main façade. This dissertation focuses on the intellectual and design milieu surrounding the project and its significance in the history of modern architecture. Movement was a crucial concept in the argument that modern architecture had a distinct medium, space, which defined it amongst the arts.

This dissertation explores how the Plateau Beaubourg project materialised the contested agendas around the different accounts of movement in the temporal apprehension of space. It argues that the exhaustion of the concept of movement at the Beaubourg moment constituted a watershed event in architectural history. The dissertation considers the inception of the Plateau Beaubourg project, which reiterated ideas about a ‘synthesis of the arts’ that had developed in post-war France, as well as the competition for the design of the Centre, which attracted 681 entries. In the competition, the ambition for interdisciplinary culture brought forth ideas about flexibility and monumentality that had developed in post-World War II architectural discourse. This research is the first attempt to survey all the entries. It identifies a large number of schemes classified as megastructures, indeterminate architecture, and spatial urbanism and explores the ways they were engaged with movement. It also identifies three key figures in the French post-war avant-garde concerned with aspects of movement: Jean Tinguely, Yona Friedman and Nicolas Schöffer. Tinguely was a key protagonist of the kinetic art movement in Paris. He also made a series of proposals for kinetic “culture stations,” precursors to the Centre Pompidou, which are largely unknown to scholars. Friedman and Schöffer were involved in the prospective urban discourse in architectural culture in Paris and entered the Plateau Beaubourg competition with schemes in which kinetic movement made the building responsive to users needs and dynamic in the urban environment. Their complete entries have not previously been published or analysed.

The research also provides the context of a longer history of how the articulation of the temporality of space and spatial experience in architecture grew from attempts to describe medium conditions proper to each art. While the significance of movement for architecture has often been described in terms of the locomotive movement of the subject, this dissertation considers the development of ideas about kinaesthetic sensations in the aesthetic apprehension of space and their more emphatic development in modernism in relation to kinetic movement. This dissertation thus expands an understanding of the significance of movement for modern architecture to include additional accounts of the temporal structuring of space and spatial experience beyond that associated with locomotion. In the Beaubourg moment kinetic movement and its urban corollary, mobility, activated an unresolved point of tension in modern architecture’s disciplinary identity, calling into question its logical and material definition as static, fixed and permanent; but also disturbing the dominance and specificity of space as its artistic medium.

The reception of the Centre Pompidou registered a shift away from many ideas that had been pervasive in 1960s architectural culture and were crystallised in Piano and Rogers’ design. The exhaustion of movement in this shift was also related to the exhaustion of a medium-based definition of architecture that had developed in relation to concept of ‘space-time,’ made operative in modernism by Sigfried Giedion. There are two significant implications of this exhaustion. The double and conflicting temporality of architectural experience and its historical time was an unresolved paradox of modern architecture that became apparent in the Plateau Beaubourg project, through the intersection of the themes of flexibility and monumentality. Recognition of this paradox underlies the more often remarked failure of flexibility in the Centre Pompidou, which also had institutional ramifications and signalled a trend towards a stronger distinction between architecture and art in museum design. To refer to this event as the Beaubourg moment is to highlight the significance of this shift in architectural culture, and the role of movement in it. While the structure of the Pompidou Centre was designed to avoid bending moments and the tendency for structural elements to rotate around a fixed point; the building nonetheless materialised a decisive turning point in the history of modern architecture, and registered the self-consciousness of movement in the identity of the resulting art-architecture complex of the Centre Pompidou. 
Keyword Architecture
Centre Pompidou
Plateau Beaubourg competition
Jean Tinguely
Yona Friedman
Nicolas Schöffer
Kinetic art

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Created: Wed, 07 May 2014, 17:36:02 EST by Susan Holden on behalf of University of Queensland Graduate School