PRESIDENT OF THE CENTRE POMPIDOU
The formalization of urbanism into a discipline in the early 20th century came about through the increasing awareness of the geographic and social urban context as a whole. The growth of cities made a new understanding of urban space and geography essential. When Haussmann launched his program to restructure the capital, he affirmed what was the undertaking of an comprehensive mutation of the city, of “Paris embellished, Paris enlarged, Paris cleaned up”, for which he drew the new axes of penetration, framed new perspectives for its monuments, created parks and gardens and annexed surrounding communities. Thus, the modern city grew to become something way beyond any idea of a gradual sedimentation, grasping urban space in a new way with a new spatial understanding. It was this capital that Walter Benjamin raised up as a symbol of the 19th century, of the model of industrial rationality embodied in the mastery of the plan and which would inspire both the main defenders of modern architecture and the utopian futurists.
The hand of Le Corbusier that swept over Paris making a tabula rasa of the city remains a powerful symbol for the idea of the factory for the city introduced by the functional control of space, the one of the C.I.A.M., of the Charter of Athens, which drove the whole policy governing the expansion of modern subdivisions. And if the framework for this urban analysis, which has been utilized for testing ideas on the building of towers, on the separation of residential neighborhoods and transport arteries, on zoning i.e. the division of the territory into differentiated functions— or on the preservation of historic neighborhoods still resonates today. But it has been deeply shaken by its dysfunctional reality and by radical doubts in the face of its reductive rationalism. The qualification of the city by its social history, by the range of practices that are organized within was thus a response that nourished historicist theory, of which Aldo Rossi’s book The Architecture of the City remains the manifesto. All the speeches on urbanism, the countless publications,
colloquia and communications of which the city has been the subject over the last thirty years, seemingly resound with this constant tension between the still modernvision of a comprehensive development project and the postmodern understanding that seeks to preserve the qualitative field of social practices.
At a time when the project for a “Greater Paris” is once again raising the issues of territorial expansion and the symbolic identity of the capital city and its governance, the Centre Pompidou wanted, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, to provide an opportunity to put this project into a theoretical and intellectual perspective updated for this age of globalization and the now permanent state of competition that exists between the world’s great cities. The Centre Pompidou, given the strength of its knowledge and experience in the field of architecture, both in the domain of architectural heritage and through the exhibitions it organizes on the subject,
also has a mission to raise the main issues faced by contemporary society. It fulfills this duty with an approach that is resolutely open to the world. In its main building designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers as a genuine urban utopia in the heart of our capital, and because Paris has been a generic model of urban analysis, it was agreed that the project should provide a forum where influential architects who have made a decisive contribution to the discourse on the urban future of 21st century could debate its challenges.
With the aim of ensuring a plurality of positions, the colloquium “L’enjeu capital(es)” is convening internationally renowned architects of different generations with varying critical approaches,to focus on what are in fact four main fields, more than themes, and multiple angles for broaching the complexity of today’s metropolises. This colloquium and the publication accompanying it are intended to serve as a resource, a reservoir of ideas and proposals, which should prove useful in urban analyses and decision-making.
Of course, to reaffirm the central position of the architect and the urbanist as a creative driving force in the design and development of future metropolises also implies a belief in the power of the qualification of creation, in the tradition of the Centre Pompidou.
President of the Centre Pompidou