S Nicola Football Stadium 247

Bullding Workshop Renzo Piano BERCY II SHOPPING CENTRE

(Paris, France) 1987-90

The Bercy il Shopping Centre is located on one of the busiest traffic nodes in the Paris area, at the extreme eastern boundary of the city where the boulevard périphérique intersects the A4 highway. With its smooth, curved outer rim and its gleaming surface, this strange megastruc-ture, which contains 100,000 square metres of shops and services, looks like the segment of a hypertrophic car bumper. It is as if the structure were meant, in its reflective capacity, to capture the gaze of the on-coming drivers, offering a car-fetishist culture an astounding, if fleeting, moment of self-awareness.

However extravagant the cultural message of this metaphorically loaded monument of the road, like most of Piano's buildings it employs a highly original and innovative approach in its construction technology. The envelope of the building is composed of three layers: a skeleton of wood-core plywood beams with the purlins following the curved line of the roof; a waterproof membrane of PVC attached to the skeleton; and a permeable membrane made of satinized stainless steel tiles on top of the PVC

membrane. As the architectural critic Jean-Pierre M6nard notes, sophisticated computer modelling generated 34 standard sizes for the 2700 panels, each made of ten stainless steel tiles, to fit the 13,000-square-metre curved roof. The tiles are paradoxically tilted upwards instead of downwards to channel rainfall between them onto the impermeable PVC skin beneath, which has its own draining system. This arrangement is intended to maximize the surface sheen; there is, therefore, a technological rationale behind the paradox. In fact, in what is a typical Piano motif, the skin, instead of being glued onto the body of the structure, is suspended in front of it, a device which has proved highly beneficial for waterproofing.

Once inside the building, the 'high-tech road' look gives way to a grandiose but more intimate, handcrafted impression. The curving purlins are made to look, as Piano has stated, like the wreck of 'the wooden hull of a ship resting gently on the concrete structure at different levels'. This handcrafted quality is complemented by 'shafts of light which come

(Above) Site plan

(Opposite, above) The exterior viewed from a distance

(Opposite) Details of the skin

(Far left) Construction detail

(Left) Diagram showing attachment of the outside skin panels to the structural frame

(Opposite)

(Top) Roof plan and column grid (Centre) Typical floor plan (Bottom) Section through holes made in the roof that dramatically illuminate the atria and reach the trees in the grove below'.

Bercy II was conceived as a highly functional facility. Priority, from this point of view, was given to aspects of orientation. The plan is divided into parallel strips, each providing shops, a central mall and little boutiques. This clear spatial concept is placed parallel to the Seine in order to enhance even more the awareness of location and reinforce the clarity of what Kevin Lynch called the 'cognitive mapping' of the project in its context. Three atria divide the central mall. The middle is planted with trees, 'like a grove', which adds not only to variety and a sense of nature, but, once again, increases the quality of the plan as an image. Finally, as people arrive by car and enter the shopping area from the underground car park, then take escalators or two panoramic lifts to the upper levels, a kind of map of their location with respect to the complex and its surrounding landscape is revealed to them, thanks to the large, curved roof and the expressiveness of the directionality of its wooden structure.

The geometry of the construction itself is one of the most intriguing aspects of the project, resembling in its meticulousness the soundbox of an enormous stringed instrument. According to Piano, the project's biggest challenge lay in defining the curvilinear form which was achieved during the development of the logic and the method of construction of the exactly divided grid of panels. 'Form, construction and geometry' were, in his words, 'constantly and strictly linked as the project grew up.* 'In a way', he continued, 'the building had first to be determined in an extremely subjec tive and visual manner, as for instance, a sculptural piece (all imperative conditions and functional requirements having first been considered); geometry, then, created the skeleton of the form which rose from the combination of three sectors of circles (each one with a different radius) and different lengths of sections. Consequently, the roof had to be constructed with three independent elements: one for the structure, made of wood-core plywood beams (purlins following the curving line of the building); one to form a watertight membrane; and, finally, one of stainless steel sheets held over the membrane.'

Bercy II is a fascinating project, successful in many ways, both on a large scale and, equally, on a very small scale. It is a unique piece of highway architecture, a wonderful artifact of contemporary technology, which brings together many subsystems of construction into one well-tempered synthesis.

(Far left) Construction detail

(Left) Diagram showing attachment of the outside skin panels to the structural frame

(Opposite)

(Top) Roof plan and column grid (Centre) Typical floor plan (Bottom) Section

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Arata Isozaki & Associates PALAU D'ESPORTS SANT JORDI

(Barcelona, Spain) 1985-90

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