Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

The Beaubourg Moment: Movement and the Temporality of Architecture

Team: Project Timeframe: PhD Project, 2007-14

My research investigates the question, or problem, of temporal experience for architecture, where temporal experience is understood as both the perception of movement in duration and the experience of time as history. It does this through two conceptual frames: firstly, through an examination of architecture's relationship to the other arts, which interrogates the role of temporal experience in forming points of distinction and conjunction between different art disciplines or mediums, and, secondly, through an examination of architecture’s relationship to discourses concerned with concepts and techniques of city making, known as urbanism.

The international architectural competition for the design of a contemporary art complex on the Plateau Beaubourg in Paris (1970–71), which resulted in the Centre Pompidou (1977), is considered as a case study. The Plateau Beaubourg project continued a long history of sovereign and state intervention in the making of the city of Paris, and as the first large-scale, open architectural competition in France it established a precedent for president François Mitterand’s Grand Projets. The winning entry by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers used movement and mobility to express flexibility and spectacle. My research considers the competition and the reception of the finished building as representing a transitional moment in architectural culture. It asks to what degree this transition can be explained by a shift in architecture’s engagement with temporal experience from one defined by an interest in sensory perception to one concerned with meaning, representation, and history.

In addition to Piano and Rogers’s winning entry, my research examines a series of other competition entries, including those by kinetic and cybernetic artist Nicholas Schöffer, architect and urbanist Yona Friedman, and architect Claude Parent. These entries are considered in relation to a series of speculative culture-centre projects that can be recognized as precedents for the Centre Pompidou, including projects by Jean Tinguely, Cedric Price, and Archigram. I analyse these projects for their use of movement and mobility, the effect of these temporal strategies on their formal and material character, and on their engagement with the city as a subject, context, and medium.

Areas of Knowledge

  • Aesthetics—'Systems of the Arts’—Temporal Experience
  • Architectural Urbanism—1950s to 1970s
  • Architectural History and Theory—1950s to 1970s
  • Centre Pompidou and Plateau Beaubourg Architectural Competition

Related Publications: 
  • Holden, Susan. 2009. Megastructure revisited: The Australian entries to the Plateau Beauboug Competition. In Cultural crossroads: 26th annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand, 36 July 2009, ed. J. Gatley. Full proceedings available on CD-ROM.

  • Holden, Susan. 2008. Kinetic movement and the Centre Pompidou. In History in practice: 25th annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Geelong, Victoria, ed. Ursula de Jong and David Beynon. Full proceedings available on CD-ROM.

  • Holden, Susan. 2007. Finding the architecture in Deleuze: Heinrich Wölfflin as a source of Deleuze's baroque. In Panorama to paradise: Proceedings of the 24th international conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Adelaide, South Australia, 21–23 September 2007, ed. Steven Loo and Katharine Bartsch. Full proceedings available on CD-ROM.

  • Holden, Susan. 2009. Cybernetics and ‘temporal architecture’: Nicolas Schöffer and the making of the Centre Pompidou. Paper delivered at 'Tekhne, technique, technologie', the Australian Society of French Studies Conference, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, 15–17 July.