Grand Louvre 227

During construction, the pyramid became the subject of much controversy in the press. But when one considers the great weight of the symbolic load borne by the location - perhaps one of the most culturally sensitive areas in Paris - the pyramid, the ultimate expression of 'corporate design' that has become synonymous with the anaesthetic environments of airport terminals and waiting lounges, has succeeded in gaining popular acceptance with remarkable speed. In fact, the pyramid proved to be a virtually flawless piece of public relations.

Despite this success, which guarantees the project a good reception for decades to come, and despite the obvious historic associations of the figure of the pyramid, the question of monumentally still remains unanswered by the scheme. In its rigidity, the pragmatic minimalism of its form, the unalterable harshness of its materials, the work is an exclusively spatial object which excludes the sense or experience of time. This implies a fear of history and, to quote the critic Philip Rahv, suggests unintentionally, 'at bottom, the fear of the hazards of freedom'.

(Above left) View of the pyramid's exterior with water pools

(Top left) Glass surface and construction detail

(Opposite) Interior of the entrance hall and staircase

Grand Louvre Phase Entrance Interior

Aldo and Hannie van Eyck


(Noordwijk. Holland) 1986-89

European Space Center Noordwijk Van Eyck

(Left) Aerial view

(Opposite, above) Detail of plan

(Opposite, below) Drawing showing construction system

(Left) Aerial view

(Opposite, above) Detail of plan

(Opposite, below) Drawing showing construction system

ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre on the Dutch coast at Noordwijk, is Europe's equivalent of NASA. The van Eycks were commissioned to add to the original orthogonal building complex which houses ESTEC's direction and management a conference centre, a restaurant and a technical documentation centre (5000 square metres), together with a series of office towers (7560 square metres).

In its first phase. ESTEC included the biggest space simulator in the world, a vast, vortex-like black box with extremely low-temperature walls and, in its depths, an artificial sun producing extremely high temperatures. This most impressive feat of engineering and creative fantasy is housed, as if imprisoned, in a silent, grim, rectilinear, self-absorbed grid envelope that ignores the surrounding world, its geometry, colours and rhythms. In 1986, Massimo Trella, ESTEC's director, commissioned the van Eycks to free the 'imprisoned' organization and they, accordingly, performed a feat of architectural liberation.

As a result, between the swirling, swelling, tumultuous currents of the North Sea and the lone, stern colossus of the original ESTEC, there sprawls today a fractal-like dragon created by the van Eycks. Indeed, the restaurant and documentation facility, on which we focus here, looks like 'the kind of joke nature plays on mathematicians', to quote Benoit Mandelbrot, the famous French mathematician. originator of fractal geometry. But, concealed in the seeming irregularity and contorted forms of this building, there is a method. Its seeming chaos is contained chaos, its apparent anarchy is based on rules. As in Aldo van Eyck's celebrated Municipal Orphanage in Amsterdam (1957-60), the rules are derived from the classical canon, albeit by systematically negating it! The particular aspect of the canon being negated is the most fundamental one, what Vitruvius called taxis: the rule system of spatial partitioning that clearly defines the beginning, middle and end of a composition and its constituent components. Taxis is the order that defines boundaries and governs the overall plan of the classical building - columns, piers, walls, doors, windows, down to the smallest ornament. Order also governs ESTEC, but one that in most key respects denies the order of classical taxis, by disrupting it locally.

These disruptions of the composition fall into three main categories. First, there are sudden additions to the classical, well-ordered outline which make it exceed its limits, for instance the horn-shaped appendix of the southwest side of the building; second, major elements are displaced, such as the entrance which is shifted at an angle of 45 degrees; and third, shape reversals. The latter is the most frequent type of disruption of taxis, both within the building and along its external boundary. Thus, convex is replaced by concave, angular by curved, even by odd. The resulting 'random tremas', to use another term of Mandelbrot's, that is, voids, give rise to a confounding rippling effect of space and an anticipated, pleasant disorientation. Among the disrupting devices of the spatial composition, surely one of the most idiosyncratic inventions in recent architectural history, is the 'hendecagonic column', a composite column 'made out of eleven steel tubes in a ring contained between two steel discs'. This also contributes to the destabilization of the classical taxis by making alignments of walls and orthogonal intersections impossible. Thus the user is systematically taken by surprise by agreeable deviations from the expected alignments.

Many of the compositional strategies employed here are complete inventions. Many, on the other hand, are rooted in extraordinary memory and erudition. The dialectic of seeming chaos and underlying rigour encountered at every turn in ESTEC brings to mind the great Baroque masters of the art (and divination) of paradox, Guarino Guarini and Francesco Borro mini, the architectural space explorations of the 17th century and the intellectual investigations of fantastic chimerical monsters', to borrow Rudolf Wittkower's expression. But, as in its 17th-century predecessors, commodita is never neglected for the sake of the image.

In ESTEC, as in their previous works, the van Eycks are concerned with spatial rule making and rule breaking, a delicate balance between rationality and chaos (see pp. 196-97). But ESTEC appears still richer than their other buildings in its results, in the richness of form one finds in organic objects. This is probably because of the finer, more intricate methods of composition employed here. The geometric, spatial effect is enhanced by the colour and the material they have used: phantasmagori-cally copper clad, dragon'-like in its scaly skin of Brazilian oroco wood, shimmering and iri descent in the sun, glaucous and green-tinged in the rain. The complex is. for our time, a rare comment on the poetics of nature and of architecture, a reflection on the structure of the world and the cognitive strategies the human mind uses to understand it. It tries to tame the monstrosity of apparent chaos by resorting to memory and invention, and in its physicality it represents the effort to tame through inquiry.

(Top) The restaurant facade

(Above) Conceptual drawings of the columns

(Opposite, above) Construction system of the columns

(Opposite) Interior view and one of the inner courts

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