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Bibliographie sélective

Beaubourg, a Populist Architectural Frame

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Jill Fenton

Inscrit le: 18 Mai 2006
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MessagePosté le: Samedi 09 Décembre 2006, 11:30    Sujet du message: Beaubourg, a Populist Architectural Frame Répondre en citant

Beaubourg, a Populist Architectural Frame

Another book has arrived on my desk for review, entitled The Glass State – The Technology of the Spectacle, Paris, 1981-1998 (1). An American professor of architecture examines the contexts of urban design and the idea of applying pared-down architectural configurations in order to support complex meanings. Beaubourg is one of this author’s chosen landmarks because of Piano and Rodger’s ‘redefining of transparency,’ the concept of event being tied to a sense of the physical building in its permanent incomplete state (2). So, the author suggests they ‘pushed all structure and mechanical systems to the exterior’ in order to liberate the floor span and also for the Pompidou Centre to make reference to the view toward the Notre Dame while, effectively, making visible the city (3).

The writer puts forward an interesting observation, that Beaubourg is an innovative steel technology completely removed from the glass and iron constructions of the nineteenth century, steel having been selected by its engineers in order ‘to combine a component of shock to undermine notions of elitist culture’ (4). The author draws on the similarities between the steel frame and function of the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Centre, both she suggests are filled by the public ‘who prominently configure their surfaces’ (5). There are other analogies for, historically, the Eiffel Tower was constructed as a celebration of France’s colonial acquisition and power, while at least in part, the construction of Beaubourg was intended finally to extinguish from Paris a transparent plateau of misery linked in time with the historic Cour des Miracles.

Interestingly, the writer, Annette Fierro, discusses the meaning and function of Beaubourg in relation to Henri Lefebvre’s idea of countering disempowerment through everyday life in terms of sexual love, childlike play, carnival and festival – ‘the opportunity to reinvest contemporary life with a sense of style based not in fashion but in the constituent “prose and poetry” of life’ (6). She remarks that for Lefebvre the folk festival was central to his thinking about revolution – ‘it would provide the means of overcoming the deadening effects produced by ubiquitous control’ and this idealised occasion would be a spontaneous and unprovoked event of urban life (7). She then connects Lefebvre’s utopian perception with the general public’s use today of the physical space of Beaubourg, both internally and externally. She states: ‘This festival is not the folk event of the village nostalgically envisioned by Lefebvre, but is reconstituted in the city, consciously indulging in forms of contemporary life […] advertising, commercial media, technology, and tourism’ (8). Appropriately, she cites the Situationists gestures with regard to the former use of the Beaubourg site but she rapidly bypasses them thus ignoring the fact that advertising, media, technology and tourism are emblems of the society of the spectacle and could not possibly be associated with Lefebvre’s extremely Marxist perception of festival. Fierro states:
‘Frequented by tourists and students, pickpockets and intellectuals, the building and its plaza became the truly communal festival of the contemporary city that Lefebvre had only theorised as belonging to a past era. Since the Pompidou Center’s final reference was outward toward Paris, that festival was effectively imparted to the city’ (9).

She seems to have overlooked Lefebvre’s backwards glance to the Cour des Miracles of the Middle Ages when beggars, prostitutes and the poor created popular festival for example on the Feast of Equinox during which they would invoke spontaneous revolution and, for one day only, enact themselves as kings, queens and rulers. If the site of Beaubourg is to be associated with festival, surely the type of festival should be influenced by the history of the Beaubourg Plateau and the marginalised who occupied it, a link with the Cour des Miracles, and not with tens and thousands of tourists entering and leaving a museum. However, icons of spectacle may occupy the museum’s interior and some spaces of the plaza, yet the buskers, conjurers, poets and artists who try to make a living there are a more true invoking of Lefebvre’s idea of festival in the everyday life.

Although Fierro misconstrues Lefebvre’s notion of festival, she highlights one of the blatant contradictions relating to Beaubourg’s use. Piano and Rogers intented that the function of Beaubourg should be such that people could enter there without paying a fee and that the building should be a place for all. Nevertheless, the museum’s administration decided to impose a substantial entry fee and sealed from public access parts of the building, a decision Fierro comments ‘in a blatant attempt to control and sanitize the occupation of the ground floor and plaza, which had been seen as unsavoury in their increasing attraction to marginal social elements’ (10). As she suggests, this is ironical: ‘The irony of gesture is a replay of the 1971 “cleansing” of the Beaubourg Plateau’ (11).

Jill Fenton
29 November 2006

(1) Fierro, A., 2003, The Glass State – The Technology of the Spectacle – Paris, 1981-1998, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press
(2) Fierro, 2003:74
(3) Fierro, 2003:74 and 81
(4) Fierro, 2003:76
(5) Fierro, 2003:81
(6) Fierro, 2003:86
(7) Fierro, 2003: 86-87
(8) Fierro, 2003:88
(9) Fierro, 2003:88
(10) Fierro, 2003:91
(11) Fierro, 2003:91

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