In our second exclusive video interview with Richard Rogers, the British architect reveals that key elements of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which he designed together with Italian architect Renzo Piano, were strongly influenced by the radical thinking of the 1960s.
The Centre Pompidou was born out of a competition launched by the French government in 1970 and was completed in 1977. However, Rogers cites the political unrest in Paris in the previous decade, when protesting students and workers came close to overthrowing the government in 1968, as a key influence.
"That moment nearly changed history, certainly for Europe," Rogers says. "It looked as though there would be a revolution. In fact, it didn’t happen. But we captured some of it in the building."
He adds: "It was a highly active period of politics, and you could argue that it was a part of the concept [for the building]. This was a dynamic period, a period of change, but we wanted to catch what was going on at the moment."
The Centre Pompidou is also linked to 1968 by its name. Originally called the Centre Beaubourg, the building was renamed when Georges Pompidou, who was prime minister of France when the protests kicked off and became president after Charles de Gaulle was forced to resign, died during construction of the building.
"It is said in France that Pompidou had a plane revving up because he thought he would lose the war against the students, the intellectuals, and the workers," Rogers says.
In Roger's and Piano's original design, the main facade of the building featured a large screen, which would have displayed information from other arts and cultural institutions around the world. But this was scrapped after Pompidou's death for political reasons.
"The façade on the building, if you look more carefully, was very much about the riots and very much about Vietnam," Rogers says. "We had it all going very well until Pompidou died and Giscard [the subsequent president of France] came in and sunk it with no hands. He said: 'it is a political weapon, I don’t want it.' So that died."
Rogers says that the idea of the putting all the structure and services on the outside of the building to maximise the flexibility of the internal space also has its roots in the volatility of this period of history.
"We wanted to make a building that was clearly of our period, which caught the zeitgeist of the now," he says.
"The one thing we knew about this age is it's all about change, if there’s one constant, it’s change. So we said that we’d make massive floors, which were the size of two football pitches with no vertical interruptions, structure on the outside, mechanical service on the outside, people's movement on the outside and theoretically you can do anything you want on those floors."
"We didn’t say where the museum should go, where the library should go, and of course, the library changed radically because when we started there were books and by the time we finished it books were almost finished because of I.T. So again that’s about change."
The radical design of the building was initially met with hostility, Rogers claims.
"It was vilified whilst we were designing it from the first day onwards," he says. "Nobody said one kind word until it opened and when people started to queue up."
He reflects: "I remember once standing outside on a rainy day and there was a small woman with an umbrella who offered me shelter. We started talking, as one does in the rain, and she asked: 'what do you think of this building?'"
"Stupidly, I said that I designed it and she hit me on the head with her umbrella. That was just typical of the general reaction of the people, especially during the design and construction stage. [People thought we were] destroying their beautiful Paris.'"
In our next movie focussing on key projects by Richard Rogers, the British architect discusses his radical Lloyd's building in London and explains why he is not completely comfortable with the "high-tech" label that is often applied to his work.
Completed in 1986 for insurance company Lloyd's of London, Lloyd's building comprises three main towers, each with an accompanying service tower, which surround a central rectangular atrium housing the main trading floor.
Often cited as a pioneering example of high-tech architecture, Lloyd's building was considered radical because, like Rogers' preceding Centre Pompidou in Paris, all of its services, including staircases, lifts and water pipes, are on display on the outside of the building.
"We were able to convince Lloyd’s that we would put the mechanical services on the outside because mechanical services have a short life," Rogers explains.
As with the Centre Pompidou, the idea behind this was to make the central spaces as open and flexible as possible. "[We] kept the floors clear because Lloyd’s said they wanted two things," Rogers says. "They wanted a building that would last into the next century - we met that one - and they wanted a building that could meet their changing needs."
However, Rogers says that he does not completely agree with the use of the term "high-tech" to describe the building.
"I have no great love for high-tech," he says. "One would like to think one uses the appropriate materials, but of course appropriate materials are shaped by the time you live in. So we use the technology of today - and the technology of yesterday where appropriate - to build the buildings of today."
He continues: "We thought Lloyd's was the absolute ultimate in the art of technology. When I look at it now, it's practically hand made. People say, ‘well, it’s technology and therefore it’s a high-tech building.' It’s a bit too easy."
A 200 year-old City of London institution at the time, Lloyd's seemed an unlikely client for such a bold building.
"It was very traditional," Rogers says. "The only bit of technology when we went to see the [previous] Lloyd’s building inside was a Xerox machine and some people were still writing with feathers and ink."
However, Rogers says that the company was actually very forward-looking. "It was backwards only in the process," he says. "Of course, it was the most famous insurance firm in the world and obviously contained a very cutting-edge element within that."
He continues: "We were again extremely fortunate, in the same way as we were with the Pompidou. The real critical thing in architecture is having a good client. A good client is not somebody who just says 'yes', it’s a client that is engaged in the evolution of the building, who responds."
While Rogers worked closely with Lloyd's on the functional aspects of the building, he says he had more freedom over the aesthetics. "We were dealing with people who knew about change, knew about risk, but hadn’t a clue about art," he explains. "The ducts, the pieces on the outside, allowed us to play a game with light and shadow."
Despite enjoying a productive relationship with Lloyd's initially, there were still challenges to overcome to get the building built.
"A year before the end of building, there was an investigation by the Bank of England into Lloyd’s and the chairman and everyone had to resign," Rogers says. "The next chairman hated us, so we had a very tough last year."
Rogers says that the general reaction to the building once it was completed was also hostile, although opinion changed over time. Lloyd's building was Grade I listed in 2011, just 25 years after it was built, and Rogers sees parallels between it and Christopher Wren's iconic St Paul's Cathedral.
"Wren was in his seventies when he at last got St Paul's built," he says, recounting a story that the dean of St Paul's Cathedral told him at the opening of Lloyd's building. "He’d started thirty years beforehand and was so tired of having his building attacked and turned down, by the time he got to building it he put a twenty foot fence all around the site so that nobody could see it."
"So even St Paul’s was a shock of the new. We think its been there forever - certainly Prince Charles thinks it has been there forever - but it hasn’t. It was a risky building to build in those times, which is why it is great."
Rogers was speaking to Dezeen to mark the opening of an exhibition called Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.