The City of Richard Rogers
Christine Murray visits Paris for the launch of the Richard Rogers retrospective
Richard Rogers + Architects, Pompidou Centre, Paris, France, 21 November 2007 to 3 March 2008. www.centrepompidou.fr
A retrospective often feels like a celebration, especially when it’s also a birthday party. The Pompidou opened its doors 30 years ago, and its position in the history of Richard Rogers’ practice is reflected in this new exhibition. There is a moment of disorientation when you step into the Richard Rogers + Architects show, but designer Ab Rogers (also Richard’s son) assures me this is intentional.
‘When you arrive in a city you decide what road to take,’ says Ab, a handful of hours before the opening party. ‘We wanted to create a world of Richard’s architecture in which people could get lost, and this is very much based on an elevated city plan.’
Populated by large-scale models of projects such as the Lloyds building, the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Centre) and Madrid’s Barajas Airport, Ab’s retrospective city consists of colour-coded ‘avenues’ of hot pink, electric blue and green tables, arranged in ‘urban blocks’ loosely defined by themes such as ‘Transparent’, ‘Legible’, ‘Green’ or ‘Urban’. The avenues converge at a giant pink sofa, referred to as the ‘piazza’, where visitors are supposed to meet, relax and debate. On the periphery, a 30m timeline provides a pictorial journey through 40 years of practice.
I confess to Ab that, for a city plan, the avenues seem too wide, the models too far apart, and he admits that the exhibition design was originally more dense: ‘It was expanded due to health and safety issues.’ The ‘piazza’ was also originally conceived as a vibrant coffee bar, but due to the complications of selling food, this was abandoned.
Designed for a general audience, plans and technical details are limited, but the models are beautifully made and displayed. In many ways, however, it is the Pompidou itself that steals the show. For years, its street-level Galerie Sud has been a dreary, uninspiring space, but in preparing for the exhibition, the Rogers team unblocked the windows and removed all internal walls, revealing a naked space with a two-way relationship to the street. Although the lurid pink ‘piazza’ demands attention, it is at the windows, with their view on to a pedestrian avenue and a public square that the exhibit’s city plan truly completes.