Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


It is, by any standards, a hard act to follow. When the original Pompidou Centre, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, opened in the heart of Paris nearly thirty years ago it was ground breaking in every sense. As well as propelling its architects into the international limelight, its epic presence and the shock of the new had a huge impact not just on Paris and the art world but cities around the world. Arguably, it created the initial momentum for iconic, contemporary galleries and museums without which no major metropolis feels complete these days.

But now the Pompidou itself – which draws in six million visitors a year – is branching out. In a few weeks time [NOVEMBER 7] construction work officially begins on the new Centre Pompidou-Metz, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Situated around 200 miles east of Paris and close to the borders of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the city of Metz will be graced with the Pompidou's first outpost and another extraordinary architectural emblem.

The building that Ban has designed for Metz was partially inspired by a Chinese peasant's hat which the architect found in a Parisian market. To Ban, the woven bamboo of the hat suggested a kind of architectural canopy which set him on a train of thought which eventually led to a vast, luminescent, conical roof that will tie the various elements of the new Pompidou together. Ninety metres wide, this sinuous crown will be made up of a timber frame woven into a hexagonal lattice and then coated in a fibreglass membrane topped with a layer of Teflon.

"It was not so much the shape of the hat that interested me but the way that it was made," says Ban, talking at his temporary European office perched on the roof of the original Pompidou Centre. "It was not only the pattern but the structure itself, which is very light but can span big distances. The design of this building may look quite complicated but it's really very simple. The different spaces of the museum itself – the galleries, the nave, offices – each have their own appropriate shape and are clearly defined and then the roof brings them all together."

For Ban, Metz is the culmination of decades of experiment with structure and materials. He is one of the most original thinkers in contemporary architecture, best known for buildings with both a lightness of touch and unconventional building blocks. He has famously used cardboard and paper tubes to build disaster relief shelters on the one hand and churches and museums on the other. His Naked House in Japan, lights up like a lantern, with walls made of translucent layers of polycarbonate sheeting with the sublime quality of rice paper – one of a series of ground breaking homes. The temporary office on top of the Pompidou Paris is also made of paper tubes, coated in the same fibreglass membrane that will soon be seen at Metz.

His capacity to think beyond both fashion and tradition, like a modern day Buckminster Fuller, has brought him international commissions not just in the Far East but also America – where he went to study in the late 1970s – and Europe. So the pressure of designing a new Pompidou, with the example of the original floating in the background, seems perfectly appropriate for a man who has founded his work upon individuality and experimentation.

"Of course, the Pompidou is a very influential building," says Ban, who is collaborating on Metz with his French partner Jean de Gastines. "I came to Paris to see it in 1978, a year after it opened, and admired it very much. But with Pompidou-Metz, any reference to the original is really in the spirit of invention or innovation, not the shape of the building or the design itself. When I entered the competition to design the museum, I thought that it was a very appropriate project for me because of the history of innovation and architectural evolution established by Rogers and Piano."

With this new 40m building, Ban has created a series of contrasts between the fixed and the flexible, the open and the closed. The cone like canopy, reaching upwards to meet a 77 metre central spire, envelopes three giant concrete tubes stacked on top of one another, each pointing in different directions. These are the galleries themselves, with vast picture windows at each end framing views of the nearby station – which will soon host a new high speed TGV link to Paris – and the cathedral, as well as the hills around Metz and the 20 hectare park surrounding the museum. There will also be a vast nave, capable of holding larger art works, as well as the entrance forum, auditorium, offices, restaurant and other service spaces. Many of these spaces – unlike the more regulated galleries – can be adapted for a variety of uses and, in places, opened up to the surrounding parkland.

"We were asked to position the museum in this huge green area, so I asked a landscape designer to design the park and put the roof on top of this garden, so that outside space could be brought right into the building," says Ban. "Usually an architect first designs an object and then asks a landscape designer to plant some trees around it. We reversed this process so there will be a strong connection with the park and nature.

"The sense of place is very important. There are many buildings that are not site specific, that are totally disconnected. That's why I wanted a big gathering space and a building that is totally exposed to the outside. It's very important to me that each of my buildings ties specifically to its place and its surroundings."

Helped by the lightness of the canopy roof, Pompidou-Metz will have some of the feeling of a pavilion or marquee sitting among the parkland when it opens in late 2008, despite its size of around 10,000 square metres. It is a pavilion that is already a catalyst for major new development across the city and a place where the Pompidou Centre can show more of its remarkable collection. Within a growing movement of cultural devolution – which also includes a new outpost of the Louvre at Lens for 2009, designing by fellow Japanese architects Sanaa in association with Imrey Culbert – the Pompidou will no longer be restricted to showing just 1,300 of its 56,000 works at any one time, as it is now.

And for Ban, it will be a major cultural project that will – no doubt – open up his work to a whole new audience. "Shigeru has how own particular style, his own particularities, which make a Shigeru Ban building," says Jonathan Thornhill, the English architect and Ban's project director for Pompidou-Metz. "He's known for his attention to detail and his hands on approach, and the roof will add a lovely warm feeling and signify his trademark. Although there will be very few paper tubes in this building...."


1957 – Born in Tokyo

1977-84 – Studies in America, with a year out working with Arata Isozaki.

1985 – Founds own practice in Tokyo.

1989 – Builds first structure – the Paper Arbor – using cardboard tubes for the World Design Expo at Nagoya.

1995 – Paper House, Lake Yamanaka, Japan & Curtain Wall House, Tokyo.

1994-5 – Construction of cardboard church and disaster relief shelters using paper tubes at Kobe after the earthquake.

1995-99 – Appointed consultant to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, after devising light weight disaster relief shelter using paper.

2000 – Naked House, Saitama, Japan.

2000 – Creates a 70 metre long Japanese Pavilion out of paper tubes for the Hanover Expo.

2003 – Wins the international competition to select a design for the new Centre Pompidou-Metz.

Summer 2004 – Construction of temporary studio for Ban's European office on top of the Pompidou Centre, Paris.

2005 – Centre d'Interpretation du Canal, Bourgogne, France.

2005 – Birth of the Nomadic Museum in New York, constructed using shipping containers, which then travels to Los Angeles and onwards.

2006 – Seikei University Library, Japan.

2008 – Completion of Centre Pompidou-Metz.

Shigeru Ban – The Highlights

1995 – The Paper Church, Kobe, Japan.
The culmination of Ban's experiments with cardboard and paper structures for disaster relief projects, the Paper Church was built after the Kobe earthquake in just five weeks. It is now being reassembled in Taiwan.

2000 – The Naked House, Saitama, Japan.
One of a series of highly innovative houses that reinterpreted the idea of the traditional Japanese home while playing with the themes of luminiscence and transparency.

2000 – The Japanese Pavilion at the Hanover Expo.
A massive, award winning 70 metre long gridshell made of paper tubes and one of Ban's largest paper structures. Also, highly eco-friendly, with most of the building being recyclable.

2005 – The Nomadic Museum, New York.
A highly flexible and portable structure, with walls made up of shipping containers. Now on tour to Santa Monica and beyond. Ban calls himself the 'nomadic architect'.

2005 – The Centre d'Interpretation du Canal de Bourgogne, Pouilly-en-Auxois, France.
One of Ban's first European projects, the Canal Museum includes a transparent visitor's centre and a paper tube gridshell boathouse, combining some of the major themes of Ban's work.