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Rogers: 'I didn't want to design the Pompidou Centre'

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Richard Rogers has spoken about initially not wanting to design the Pompidou Centre, the 40-year-old Paris landmark that first made his name

Addressing a packed audience at an AJ100 Breakfast Club event at Claridge’s hotel in London this morning (3 November), he said he was overruled by fellow members of his team comprising Su Rogers, Renzo Piano and Ted Happold.

‘As it happens, I didn’t want to do the Pompidou Centre but it was a very democratic group and when I lost the vote we did it, fortunately,’ Rogers said.

He added of the design competition: ‘When I was told there were 700 entries, I said, “Burn the drawings, you’re wasting your time.” But anyhow, luckily I’m often wrong.’

The resulting building, a ‘place for all people’ in Paris’ 4th arrondissement, which he designed primarily with Piano, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

It was an ‘immensely difficult’ project, Rogers recalled, saying he had to fight seven legal cases. Referring to the initial backlash to the radical design for what is now a cultural landmark, he said there were only two positive media articles about the project before the building opened in 1977.

‘We had a hell of a lot, shall we call it, shit,’ he said, sparking laughter from the audience. ‘So we were too young to realise that it was really quite impossible to build this.’

But they benefited, he said, from a ‘great’ team and a ‘wonderful’ client, adding: ‘When I look back, what is the difference between buildings which I think are good ones and the ones which are less good and the answer is usually the client.’

Asked by the AJ’s Will Hurst how he and Piano coped with criticism of their design, Rogers said they were ‘very naive … Youth is blind, thank God for that.’

Rogers’ talk followed the publication of his new book, A Place for All People: Life, Architecture and the Fair Society, in which he says of designing the Pompidou: ‘Architecture is not just an exercise in creativity but also a practical exercise in problem-solving and navigating the political and practical challenges inherent in a big project.’

He told the audience that today’s architects understand this better than at any other time, adding that architects have a ‘social responsibility’ and are ‘working for a society’.

Rogers predicted that the Pompidou Centre would continue to change over time. The AJ reported earlier this year that Piano will draw up plans for replacement escalators on the building’s exterior as part of a £90 million renovation to mark its 40th anniversary. The work is scheduled for 2018-2020.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    The first thing you have to say about the staggering Centre Pompidou -is that they actually got it built.
    In the centre of Haussmann Paris, they managed to land a space-age adaptable machine -about twice the height of everything else inside the Ring (Eifel and Notre Dame excepted).
    Inimitable chef d'ouvre.

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