The notion of a 'rigorist' architecture, that is to say one that intentionally represented 'only what has a true function', stripped down to its barest elements and eschewing all superfluous ornamentation, is often traced back to the early 1740s. This is when Carlo Lodoli,12 a Venetian Franciscan friar, earned for himself the appellation of 'the Socrates of
architecture' as a result of his immensely successful public diatribes against the Baroque architecture of his day, as passionate as they were learned. He preached that in order for architecture to renew itself and achieve 'eternal youth', it had to throw off the heavy shapes of the past, overloaded with formal conventions, and adapt itself to ever-advancing modern technology.
Of course, the origins of this radical, revolutionary idea - it was to imply no less than the complete overthrow of the classical canon and the creation of a wholly new one - go back at least a century earlier, to Galileo and the birth of mechanics,13 to the time when the separation between the representation of structural strength and its reality - in the words of the time, between 'form' and 'matter' - was identified. There were two consequences of this realization for architecture: that for a building to be truly solid and truly functional, aspects related to the science of mechanics were more important than traditional conventions of architecture; but also, conversely, that to make a building represent solidity and Ludwig Loo, Large circulating and Cavitation functionality, it was not necessary to make it so in reality. Tunnel, Berlin (1975-)
Despite the fact that the rappel a I'ordre movement did not pay much attention to these questions, they continued to preoccupy an important number of architects during the 1970s. Increasingly so as new materials and new techniques of scientific analysis of structures were produced, oblivious of the socio-cultural crisis which was so central a concern at the end of the 1960s.
The Centre Pompidou is, once more, a significant project in the framework of this neo-rigorist movement. In fact, its design made it evident that after decades of trials, modifications and improvements, Lodoli's rigorist vision of an architecture of 'eternal youth' was finally about to be realized. The project's success was due to:
(i) identifying and containing ail the elements that make up the structural and functional elements of the building in discrete articulated channels (in this case functional is equated with service operations only);
(ii) segregating these channels from the rest of the building, packaging them into special zones, vertical as well as horizontal, and placing these zones in highly visible locations, either on the front and back of the building or in an exposed area under each ceiling.
The exposure of this piping service network gave the Centre Pompidou, in addition to the stripped skeletal look of earlier rigorist buildings, a special appearance. Many buildings were to adopt this look for over a decade: for instance, Ludwig Leo's Umlaufstank (Large Circulating Tunnel) in the heart of Berlin and Weber, Brandt and Partners' Teaching Hospital in Aachen (1968-86, pp. 168-71). Lodoli, the passionate morphologist of nature of the early Enlightenment, who was particularly fond of collecting embalmed animal carcasses and conserved organs, in addition to animal skeletons - hence the notorious smell of his collection room - would have been fascinated by the effect of this exposure.
However, the reasons behind this arrangement for the masterpiece of Piano and Rogers were not just visual, no matter how powerful the visual effect might be, or even an expression of the idea of architectural 'honesty' whereby nothing is hidden from the public. This representation of structural function was truly functional: it yielded a column-and-duct-free interior space offering maximum flexibility and possibilities of improvisation, and an ease of access to the servant14 areas without disrupting the rest of the served spaces.
But there was another, deeper and more ambitious reason for this rigorism. It offered a new means of expanding one's understanding of the world. The building through its exposed structural and functional mechanisms was not intended to exhibit only its own devices, but to have these devices serve as a kind of map, a model of universal phenomena. More specifically, the tubular frames and piping hierarchies were a means of representation of the properties and structures of matter, their boundaries, their qualities and their relations. Furthermore, the implied model forordering the building's space was not merely descriptive, it was also prescriptive. It showed not only how to look at the world, but how to make it. The topology of spaces as well as the iconology of the structures called for commitment to progress and to technology.
The building's bold geometry of articulated volumes, the clarity of the outline of their figures, the energy of their colour, the very icons of the truss scaffolding and the mechanical gadgetry, recall Fernand Leger's 'heightened appreciation' of the 'special strengths and imperatives ... to be found in the new conditions that the modern age has brought us', to quote Hilton Kramer.15 In fact, there are very few works in modern architecture, including those of Le Corbusier, that have succeeded in radiating the promise of beauty and 'the sense of joy in the very nature of modern life' as much as the Centre Pompidou. We have referred in some detail to this building because of its emblematic uniqueness, as well as the major impact it had on architects in Europe and around the world.
The same qualities are present in the work of Norman Foster, an equivalent celebration of the modern age and more than just 'high tech', as it is usually called. If one were to give preeminence to the Centre Pompidou rather than to the Renault Parts Distribution Centre (Swindon, England, 1980-83, pp. 116-19), which is probably more cognitively intriguing as an implicit representation of the world, of the properties of materials and the distribution of forces, this would be because of the programmatic dynamism of the Centre Pompidou in comparison to the mundane Renault Centre.
The rigorism of the 1970s, as we have already remarked, was concerned with visually expressing not only a building's structural aspects, but its functional aspects as well. The
rhythm and elegance that characterize the very best new rigorist buildings are the result of the intelligence of the warp and woof of their spatial structure. The rigorist buildings of that decade took the organization of the traditional functionalist plan one step further: they exemplified a new topology, accounting for 'servant' and 'served' organs.
This topological innovation was not invented at that moment. It bears traces of Rogers' and Foster's apprenticeship at Yale in the 1960s with Serge Chermayeff, when they were students at the school of architecture then housed in a building by Louis Kahn, the Yale Art Gallery. It was in Louis Kahn's conception of buildings in terms of spatial/functional categories of 'servant' and 'served' and in Serge Chermayeff's bi-zonal planning in terms of strips of 'mobility' versus 'tranquillity', 'community' versus 'privacy', 'flows' versus 'containers', that this new topology was first envisaged. It was Kahn and Chermayeff who gave the promise of a more intelligent design, beyond the simplified, so-called 'functionalist' buildings that Robert Venturi had dubbed 'ducks'.16
Very often, however, neo-rigorist ideas led to easy formulas and banal results. In these cases, neo-rigorism failed not only to convey a Léger-like, heroic message and to offer intellectual pleasure, but created exactly the opposite effect, dullness. It induced a feeling of hostility against modern life and its technology because they were perceived as leading to a boring world where imagination has no place.
An approach which departed from this seemingly exhausted area of supports and suspensions, while still remaining within the framework of structural rigorism, exploited the almost classical post-and-beam combinatorics, also inspired by Louis Kahn. This route was taken by Herman Hertzberger's Ministry of Social Affairs (The Hague, 1979-90) with its endless variety of well-formed structures.
Another path was tried by those who sought to find by empathy - reviving earlier efforts by architects such as Eero Saarinen - a sculptural quality in the individual elements of construction. In this tradition of experimentation are Renzo Piano's petal-like stands of the S. Nicola Football Stadium in Bari (1987-90, pp. 246-47) which almost mimetically emulate the structure of a flower. Equally biomorphic, as if the results of the slow process of growth or of evolution, are Calatrava's steel or concrete forms of the Stadelhofen Railway Station in Zürich (1985-90, pp. 254-57)) and his Satolas Station near Lyon (1989-92, pp. 284-85).
Neo-rigorism, whose emergence we have identified as being almost contemporary with the populist movement and which was developed further during the time of rappel à l'ordre, continued to produce alternative experiments with structure well into the 1980s. Renzo Piano at the Schlumberger Industrial Site in Montrouge, Paris (1981-84, pp. 120-23), and Michael Hopkins at Schlumberger's Research Laboratories in Cambridge, England (1984, pp. 124-25), used fibre membranes to invent new possibilities for revealing landscapes of the distribution of forces in space. Yet the mood of the 1980s in Europe appears to be directed towards more subtle means of representing structure and function than the exhibitionistic ways the 1970s. We see this in the appeal that the restrained, elegant rigorism of Alejandro de la Sota's masterpiece, the Post Office and Telecommunications Building of Leon (1985, pp. 138-41), has exerted on a much younger generation, as well as in products of this younger generation of the end of the 1980s in Europe, such as the houses in Almere, Holland, by Jan Bentham and Mels Crouwel (1982-84) and by Peter Loerakker (1983). We can see it in the strategy adopted at the Palau d'Esports Sant Jordi of Arata Isozaki (Barcelona, 1985-90, pp. 252-53), where the spectacular achievements of construction technology and the complex multi-functionality of the interior are kept under a low profile, submerged under a quiet roof.
A rigorist treatment of the outside of a building which avoids showing, if not actually covering up, function and structure, has been tried in the past in articulating environmental control conditions through shading devices, such as the famous invention of the brise-soleil by Le Corbusier, or Louis Kahn's wrapping of 'stone wall ruins' around glass walls. There have been a few interesting examples of this approach during the last twenty years, such as the neo-brutalist concrete brises-soleil of the School of Hagios Dimitrios by Takis Zenetos (Athens, 1969-76) and the metal ones by Jean Nouvel at Némausus (Nîmes, 1985-87, pp. 178-81), those of the Banco de Bilbao (Madrid, 1971-78, pp. 100-03) by Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza, of La Pista by Miralies and Pinös (Els Hostalets de Balenya, 1987-91, pp. 260-63), and of the housing project for the Boulevard Vincent Auriol by Bouchez + Associés (Paris, 1987-90, pp. 242-43). These are, however, relatively isolated cases.
Was this article helpful?