The Pompidou Center, built in Paris between 1971 and 1977 by architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano and Structural Engineer Pete Rice, is often regarded as a turning point in architecture. Well will discuss in this report the particularities of the building's structure and what makes it so innovate in terms of engineering and architecture.
Being a cultural center, the architects wanted to maximize the open space on the inside of the building and allow for modularity without being constrained by structure or obstacles. The structure was therefore placed on the outside of the building with elements spanning its entire width to create a completely open space on the inside, devoid of any obstacles. The process seems relatively simpler than it actually is, and several clever ideas were employed that helped to achieve this.
A close collaboration between the architects and engineers fostered a very good balance for the conception of this building, and is a key strategy for the success it became. Not only did it result in an amazing piece of architecture, it is also a feat of engineering, with revolutionary ideas and conception that make the Pompidou center a true hallmark of good architecture.
To achieve the spanning of the entire width of the building - 157 feet, the architects used enormous trusses resting on gerberettes. The truss elements keep an aspect ratio very close to 20:1, the limit for bending elements. The gerberette system is what allows for such an impressive span, all the while keeping the envelope of the building relatively light.
The gerberettes have a pin connection to the columns, and the trusses rest on them from the inside. The columns are then in turn fixed to the ground. By doing so, the architects and engineers reduced the span the trusses actually have to cross, and therefore their size. But the gerberette element being pinned to the column, it will rotate with the different forces acting on it. To account for these reactions, the gerberettes are linked by an exposed steel structure that takes back the force in tension. Tension being the most efficient force, it allows for a very light external structure. This could have been done with a fixed connection between the gerberettes and the columns, but doing so would have resulted in much thicker members. It would have been harder and more expensive to build, and overall resulting in a much heavier looking building with fewer openings and a more imposing aspect.
The bracing of the building is also taken to the façade, with steel cables cross bracing the building. The longitudinal bracing is incorporated to the correct system, and eventually fixed to the ground, while the transversal bracing is done directly connected to the heat and trusses of the building.
These different arrangements create a completely open building on the inside, free of any structure or obstacle, with almost every force been taking in the tension by the outside still superstructure. This is something that had radical realistically never been done in architecture before and true revolutionary approach to the structural engineering and architecture.