This is the story of how France's famed cultural icon, one of the most controversial and public buildings of the century, was designed and built. Nathan Silver's detailed account of the Centre Pompidou - still called Beaubourg by its designers, and by Parisians - takes the form of a "building biography." Not just a book about a building but also about the making of a building, this means of inquiry is a holistic reading of the intricate process of creating architecture in contemporary society that brings to light its human story, encompassing its stylistic, historical, technical and social aspects. Beaubourg was unlike anything that had ever been built. A realization of ideals and aspirations of an architectural generation, a rethinking of fundamental precepts of design and construction, it took nothing for granted, and it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe - flaunting new principles with which other architects have had to come to terms. The text's discovery of this building is never separated from the process, politics, crises and controversies of its making. Based on interviews conducted at the time with all of the key players, Silver presents a behind-the-scenes narrative of design process and decision making that he weighs with bold critical scrutiny. Silver explores the saga of the designers' battles, over a period of five and a half years, to maintain control and build within budget. He starts from the beginning when the British/Italian/Anglo-Danish design team, including architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano and engineers Peter Rice and Ted Happold of Ove Arup, took a long-shot gamble on an international competition. Silver then details the design team's conception of a building with flexible plans and adjustable elevations, describes the development of a structural system as inventive as that of the Eiffel Tower and equally as public in its urban rhetoric, and concludes with the triumph of Beaubourg's popular and critical reception.
Nathan Silver is a writer-architect who has worked in the USA and the UK. He taught design at Columbia and Cambridge Universities, was chairman of the Soho Theatre in London, and was Head of the School of Architecture at the University of East London. He has built buildings, and was architecture critic of The New Statesman for ten years.
Nathan's book Lost New York was nominated for the U.S. National Book Award. He's written a "building biography" of the Centre Pompidou. His book Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation (with Charles Jencks) was recently republished in a revised and updated edition (after 40 years!).
Currently he is a consultant forensic expert on architecture and construction, runs a theatre and television production company, and is a panellist for the Olivier Awards in opera. He is soon starting a critical blogging site under the rubric "Lousy Design."
Nathan invests in biotechnology as a hobby. He has two children, four grandchildren, and is married to Time Out/Perrier Best Pub-prizewinning London publican Roxy Beaujolais, author of Home from the Inn Contented: A Cookbook of Simple, Popular Pub Food.