Blog 3
Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

Structure Information

Figure 1 : Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou, also known as the Pompidou Centre, is a multipurpose building located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The project came in response to the desire of then-president Georges Pompidou to implant a unique multidisciplinary cultural center in the Beaubourg area. The final design had been selected among 680 others during an international contest that involved 49 different nationalities [1]. The building, considered as one of the most emblematic of the 20th century was designed by Renzo Piano, Gianfranco Franchini and Richard Rogers, all architects unknown of the Public at the time. The structural engineer in charge of the project was the renowned Ove Arup. Opened to public in January 1977 after 6 years of construction, the challenges of this building were to be able to cohabit different activities within the same complex while facilitating the relationship between them and, make possible the contact with the public through the art and cultural centers. Hence, Pompidou Centre serves as public library, national modern art museum, music creation center and contemporary arts exposition center. The project cost was 993 Million of French Franc in 1972 and since the President was himself the pioneer of the project, it received public funding and had been government-owned since.


Historical Significance

Figure 2: Elevation East (detail) [2]

The structural engineering design for this complex was unique and its originality reflects through the total clearance on each of the ten floors of 7500 m2. The area had to be free of any physically obstructing structure, hence involving long spans between the columns that were designed to be outside. As noticeable on the picture below, the architects also wanted any piping to be visible from the exterior; providing the sense of “clarity and transparence” to viewers. They’ve combined the need for space with the materialization of their vision: Nothing need to be hidden in a building, everything need to be revealed. This approach was for them a game and a taunt. The structural engineering design had to adjust to those need in sort to make it possible: this required 15,000 tons of steel and 11,000 m2 of glass; unusual practice for the construction world of the time. This innovative and revolutionary character of the building was the fuel that boosted the Pompidou Centre to its rank between the most popular of the twentieth century.




The design and impressive architecture of the Pompidou Centre had laid foundations for a totally new ideology in terms of design across the world. Not just for the Centre itself that expanded internationally -Europe, Asia, North & South America- but also for the following generations of designers.


Cultural Significance

The Building had seen eleven presidents since creation, all of them appointed by the Ministere de la Culture; equivalent of the U.S Department of Arts and Culture in France.

Figure 3: Inside of the center

In the 70s and 80s, the center offered to visitors, majors expositions that contributed to the art world during the twentieth century. Among others, multiple tv series such as “memoire du future”, “les immateriaux”. The center had been used for the casting of the movie Moonraker of James Bond. Expositions from artists of different background, renowned or beginners had been presented at the Pompidou Centre. Among others, we could cite Paul Davis, Henri Michaux, Bonnard, Etienne Martin, etc.


This building has been loved from day one and had become one of the most visited cultural center in the world and the most visited in France. The center had a daily average of 16,000 visitors in 2000. In general, the center is said to handle between 3.5 and 3.8 million of visitors on a yearly basis the past couple of years.

The center is used to promote modern and contemporary arts through multiples expositions. As said earlier, the structure serves today as public library, national modern art museum, music creation center and contemporary arts exposition center. Street performers are constantly performing on the outside of the building. I’ve personally witnessed this around little before midnight despite the fact that the center was closed couple of hours earlier! I was amazed by the dedication, or passion I should say.


Structural Art

With the main structural elements clearly exposed as shown in the pictures, it was clear and evident to identify the load path throughout the building. Initially, all of the functional structural elements of the building were color-coded: green pipes for plumbing, blue ducts  for climate control and electrical wires encased in yellow, and circulation elements and safety devices in red. Check the following picture for an illustration.

Figure 4 :Color coded piping visible from exterior [3]



I would also argue that Elegance was there. Certainly, it’s a relative appreciation but considering the purpose to which the building was dedicated and everything else about it; I believe majority of readers would agree that this marvel is just Elegant! Economic aspect? The expected functionality of the structure had impacted a specific design which could have been less costly without those constraints. However, with all the income generated by the center since its creation, I believe that the Building had paid for itself long ago!  That was actually one of the greatest investment the government had made so far, in my opinion!

So, Yes!  the structure demonstrates Structural art.


Structural Analysis

Figure 8: Structure of the building

Some massive earthworks of 300,000 m3 was needed on the site to reach the 60 feet deep. As reflected in the images, the building is a typical one with concrete slab over beams and column. Hence, we are in presence of a uniformly distributed load that carries over to the reactions (columns) through the beams. The structure is essentially metallic -columns, beams, connection elements- and with 50,000 m3 of concrete poured to make up the flooring. Of course, they were prefabricated off-site (Germany) and assembled on site. The assembly of the metallic structure began from the first floor and involved the creation of a fixed connection of the posts (columns) inside concrete. On the top of each of these erected posts, exist a pin connection which will be used to hold where needed, the beam that serves as support for the slab.

Figure 5: Typical device for connection column-beam [7]






Figure 6 : Earthworks



The metallic beams were 45 meters long and weighted 75 tons while the columns were of various height of 5, 21 and 23 meters with diameters as big as 3 feet. The escalators were strategically designed as a corridor in cantilever with the building as shown on the first picture. As most structures, the load path for the overall structure is from the top to the bottom. Each floor’s load is added to immediate one beneath it and so on until it reaches the foundations. A better description would be: the outmost slab -designed with the dead load and live load- would transmit its weight to the beams according to the tributary area rule. That tributary “weight” is then carried to the metallic columns which got bigger as we go down the stairs. The constraints of longer spans drag along the need of having column’s drop by location in order to contend the flexural and compressive moment due to the live loads essentially.

Figure 7 : Inside the outside escalator [5]


As decrypted in figure 9, different layers of materials consist the slab.

Figure 9: Different layers of materials









A partial section throughout two floors reveals much details about the structure in Figure 10.

Figure 10: Partial section of slabs

Load path

As shown in the figure above, the load -in red- from the slab and the cantilever items -escalators mainly- goes through the columns which are in compression. The warren trusses under the slab provide extra support/ resistance against flexure. Maximum moment for the structures in cantilever are observed at the joint and maximum shear for the slab is expected to happen right at the connection slab-column while maximum bending should be expected at mid-span.

In the following, a lot of assumptions about the numbers will allow us to attempt the analysis. Assuming that beams are distant from each other for about 12 feet and that the span between the columns are 100 feet. This leave each beam (except the periphery ones) to have a tributary area 12’x100′. Thickness estimated to be 8 inches. During my searches, Ive came across the value of 5000 psi for concrete. Assuming that the thickness was taken into account, I’ve converted that value to a linear weight by multiplying it by the tributary width which is 10’x12”. The linear weight of 7200 k/ft. as then obtained. From here we could deduct the reaction by each of the column to be wl/2 which is equal to 3,600 K.

Assuming the same load considerations for the following floor, we’ll have this weight plus another 3,600K at that level and so on. The increasing weight as we go down the fl0or levels result in an increasing section of the columns as well.

Personal Response

The Pompidou Centre is a really impressive structure. The designers of this marvel have constructed something innovative from a very playful background. They  were able to draw attention and create uniqueness while having fun, which is very inspiring. We gotta do what we love and do it big to the point of inspiring generations to come.