Pompidou stages bird's eye view of US architect's buildings

20th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 8, 2006 (AFP) - Striding over a slightly disconcerting glass runway housing 24 models of his innovative projects, award-winning US architect Thom Mayne let out a burst of laughter. "I've been busy," he chortled.

PARIS, March 8, 2006 (AFP) - Striding over a slightly disconcerting glass runway housing 24 models of his innovative projects, award-winning US architect Thom Mayne let out a burst of laughter. "I've been busy," he chortled.

The tall, lanky Los Angeles designer, now considered one of the giants in the world of contemporary architecture, was in Paris for the opening of a rare exhibition of his work at the Pompidou Centre.

'Morphosis' is a selection spanning eight years of work by Mayne's company of the same name, allowing visitors a unique perspective of the projects as they walk over models encased in a flowing transparent, glass framework.

"It's the view we would get of our cities from a helicopter," explained Mayne, as he bent occasionally to enthusiastically point out details.

*sidebar1*The exhibition, like Mayne's work, demands closer inspection. It's only by climbing on to it (wearing special slippers thoughtfully provided to prevent slips) that visitors realise that underneath lie whole buildings.

It's like treading a giant's causeway, with the world literally at your feet, walking over buildings, fearful of squashing something so unused are we to peering down at our planet from great heights.

Mayne and his team hope people will squat or even lie down to get a better view of banks, schools, courthouses, housing projects, even — an ultimately unsuccessful — design to rebuild the World Trade Centre in New York.

For the past three decades, Mayne has been battling to get people to view their world in a different way. And last year his creativity and innovation won him the Pritzker Prize — the highest distinction in the architecture world, its so-called Nobel.

"Every now and then an architect appears on the international scene, who teaches us to look at architecture with fresh eyes, and whose work marks him out as a man apart in the originality and exuberance of its vocabulary," said Pritzker jury chairman Lord Palumbo.

Mayne says he sees his role as challenging people to look beyond our architectural legacy.

"I'm interested in architecture which somehow advances thinking. It makes you question your world. Look at this building. The Pompidou completely changed the nature of what an art institution was, right? The anti-Louvre," he said. "Three years later it was the most loved, most cherished building in Paris and it remains so I understand."

So excited was he by the design of the Pompidou, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, that he visited it five times during construction.

Back then in the early 1970s, Mayne had just broken away from the Pomona University in California which asked him and six of his colleagues to leave disapproving of their radical approach to architecture.

Together they set up their own school of experimental architecture and Mayne founded Morphosis. His innovative thinking earned him the rather cliched title of the "bad boy" of architecture which has somehow stuck down the years.

While admitting he still sees himself as an outsider, Mayne dislikes the easy label blaming it on American conservatism, and his own dogged independence coupled with his then somewhat ropey diplomatic skills.

"I fought for the discipline of architecture and for architecture as an art form, and I believe in that and I fought for it and I still do, but I do it in a more gentler way," he said.

"Most of architecture is so burdened with history that it just anaesthetises you. There's nothing taking place. Architecture like all our creative endeavours should somehow take you some place, take your brain some place, they should make your curious, they should demand inquiry.

"I'm a human being so I like people to like my buildings. But honestly whether they like them or dislike them is not the major thing. It would be devastating if they did nothing. That would be painful."

His work and his growing reputation have, like many of today's best known architects, brought him contracts from around the world — from a new development for Giant Group Pharmaceutical in Shanghai, to 165 units of public housing in Madrid.

Always in search of new challenges, Mayne, who says he is as much influenced by film, art and literature as he is by other architects, admits he'd like to try his hand at an opera hall, or a museum or an airport.

There are a few projects which for political reasons he would not be interested in taking on, such as prisons or nuclear sites.

But ask him to pick his favourite project, and this normally warm, talkative man halts in mid-flow.

"That's like making a Sophie's Choice. No. It is like children," he said.

Copyright AFP

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