Centre Pompidou – Paris, France - Atlas Obscura

Centre Pompidou

An "inside out" building in the historical center of Paris, featuring Europe’s largest modern art museum. 


Located in Paris’ 4th arrondissement, Centre Georges Pompidou’s exterior and interior are almost equally absurd and surreal. The exterior uses an “inside out” design with large pipes on the building’s facade, and the inside consists of some quite conceptual outside-the-box modern art.

In the early stages of planning, the creators of Centre Pompidou decided to leave the blueprint of the building up to an architectural design competition. The winner was a team of three architects (two Italians and a Brit) who drafted the blueprints for a 7-story, 1.1 million-square-foot architectural masterpiece that, according to National Geographic, was “love at second sight” for the founders.

The inside-out exterior moved the building’s functional appliances out of the main space and into the open air so that the galleries inside could have more room to work with. To spice things up even more, the building’s appliances were color-coded: blue for heating and cooling, green for plumbing pipes, yellow for electrical wiring, and red for the escalator (which, of course, is located on the exterior of the building too).

But the view from the outside isn’t even half of it — it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Past the pipes and the entrance doors of Centre Pompidou lies the successful manifestation of an idea to create a modern, non-traditional multicultural complex of art and literature in the center of one of the world’s biggest cities. This was fulfilled by placing the Musée National D’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art) in the center of the building, making it the largest modern art museum in the entire continent of Europe.

But art isn’t just visual; it’s also audio-based — hence, Centre Pompidou is also the home of IRCAM, a music research center. And as if that wasn’t enough, the building also manages to fit in a 6th floor restaurant offering a panoramic view of Paris, as well as incorporating literature via the Bibliothèque Publique D’Information (Public Information Library).

Some smaller yet equally bizarre attractions in Centre Pompidou include the Stravinsky Fountain, a fountain with 16 sculptures representing characters from songs composed by Igor Stravinsky, and “Horizontal,” a mobile created by the inventor of the mobile, Alexander Calder. In front of the building, a plaza called “Place Georges Pompidou” is well known for its mimes, jugglers, artists, and street performers.

Although many preservationists objected to building something designed like an oil refinery in the historical center of Paris, the general public has responded positively, as the combination of art and oddity is something we could all certainly use more of.

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