Contemporary Architecture

BERNARD TSCHUMI – Zénith Concert Hall & Exhibition Center

Zénith Concert Hall & Exhibition Center, Rouen, France, 1998 – 2001:

About the building:

  • The motive of this project was to create a tool capable of fostering the economic expansion and cultural development of the Rouen district at the beginning of the 21st century.
  • The site is an abandoned airfield well located at the entry to Rouen and less than an hour and a half by car from Paris.
  • Dramatically visible from National Route 138, the 7000 seat concert hall, designed for rock concerts, political meetings and varied entertainments, the plaza and the 70,000 square foot exhibition hall are placed on the 70 acres of a site structured by a grid of landscaping and lighting.
  • The concert hall is designed to be visible with equal interest when heading to or away from Rouen on the highway.
  • The design of the buildings offers a degree of polyvalence. The 700 foot long exhibition hall is conceived as a simple structure with a slightly vaulted roof, its horizontality contrasting with the curvature and guy­wired masts of the 350 foot diameter concert hall.
  • The two main components:
    • concert hall
    • exhibition hall
    • In the concert hall, the typology of the classic concert facility has been transformed by developing a slight asymmetry in the audience seating that produces the form of a broken torus.
    • This asymmetry has the functional advantages of allowing the theater to be reconfigured into three smaller volumes and accommodating the off-center entry.
    • Minimalistic fibre-glass seats
    • The off-center entry to the Concert hall
    • The structural system of the roof permits an economical long span with tension cables to hold the middle of the long spans, allowing a lighter truss system.
    • Acoustical concerns led to a complete double envelope surrounding the concert hall. The inner skin and concrete stepped seating are doubled by the exterior skin of insulated corrugated metal.
    • The outer shell structure made up of arches of tubular steel with a constant radius, like a secondary frame of rectangular profiles, covered with panels of corrugated sheet steel.
    • The structural frame is more of a fusion of steel and concrete framework with steel holding the outer shell and inside concrete holding the slab.
    • Located between the structural/acoustical envelope and the weather/security envelope is the “in-between” space of pedestrian circulation and gathering.
    • The curved wooden frame emphasises the slightness of the boundary and increases the sense of a space that is in harmony with its environment.
    • The auditorium is situated in the heart of the forest and is clad entirely in wood, creating a landmark whose materials reflect its immediate surroundings.
    • The wood allows for excellent acoustics and adds a feeling of warmth, while the decking highlights the spectacular dimensions of the auditorium.
    • Animated by the varied routes to the hall, its size makes it a major social space.


A brief biography:

  • Bernard Tschumi is an architect and educator born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1944.
  • He spent half of his childhood in Lausanne, Switzerland and half in Paris, France due to the fact that his mother was French and his father was Swiss.
  • His father studied architecture in Paris, and at the end of World War II he set up the School of Architecture of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne.
  • Presently, a permanent United States resident who holds both French and Swiss nationalities, Tschumi studied in Paris and at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland, from which he received his degree in 1969.
  • From 1970 to 1979 he taught at the Architectural Association in London.
  • He also taught at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies at New York in 1976 and at Princeton University in 1976 and 1980.
  • From 1981 to 1983 he was visiting professor at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York.
  • He has been Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University in New York from 1988 to 2003.
  • ‘Form follows fiction’ is one example of Bernard Tschumi’s rules of architectonic notation that have made him an internationally influential theorist.
  • He has applied his theories to the problems of cultural and educational institutions, with his approach evident in his successful proposal for the project that catapulted him to prominence, the Parc de la Villette, Paris in 1998.

Awards and Honours:

Tschumi has garnered numerous awards, among them are:

  • the Legion d’Honneur (1986)
  • the Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1998)
  • the French Grand Prix National d’Architecture (1996)
  • the British Royal Victoria Medal (1994)
  • The American Architecture Award (1999).

Advertisements for Architecture, 1976 – 77:

“There is no way to perform architecture in a book. Words and drawings can only produce paper space, not the experience of real space. By definition, paper space is imaginary: it is an image.”

  • Several of Tschumi’s early theoretical texts were illustrated with Advertisements for Architecture, a series of postcard-sized juxtapositions of words and images.
  • Each was a manifesto of sorts, dealing with the dissociation between the immediacy of spatial experience and the analytical definition of theoretical concepts.
  • The function of the Advertisements -reproduced again and again, as opposed to the single architectural piece – was to trigger the desire for something beyond the page itself.
  • When removed from their customary endorsement of commodity values, advertisements are the ultimate magazine form, even if used ironically.
  • The logic presumes that since there are advertisements for architectural products, why not advertisements for the production (and reproduction) of architecture.

Screenplays, 1978:

“The Screenplays are investigations of concepts as well as techniques, proposing simple hypotheses and then testing them out. They explore the relation between events (“the program”) and architectural spaces, on one hand, and transformational devices of a sequential nature, on the other.”

  • The use of film images in these works originated in Tschumi’s interest in sequences and programmatic concerns. (“There is no architecture without action, no architecture without event, no architecture without program.”) Rather than composing fictional events or sequences, it seemed more informative to act upon existing ones.
  • The cinema thus was an obvious source. At the same time, the rich formal and narrative inventions of the only genuine 20th-century art inevitably encouraged parallels with current architectural thought. Flashbacks, crosscutting, jumpcuts, dissolves and other editing devices provided a rich set of analogies to the time and space nature of architecture.
  • Yet the concerns of the Screenplays were essentially architectural. They dealt with issues of:
    • material (generators of form: reality, abstraction, movement, events, etc.)
    • device (disjunction, distortion, repetition, and superimposition)
    • counterpoint (between movement and space, events and spaces, etc.)
    • The Screenplays aimed at developing a contemporary set of architectural tools.

The Manhattan Transcripts, 1976 – 81:

“Architecture is not simply about space and form, but also about event, action, and what happens in space.”

  • The Manhattan Transcripts differ from most architectural drawings insofar as they are neither real projects nor mere fantasies.
  • Developed in the late 1970s, they proposed to transcribe an architectural interpretation of reality. To this aim, they employed a particular structure involving photographs that either directed or witnessed events (some would call them “functions” others “programs”).
  • At the same time, plans, sections, and diagrams outlined spaces and indicated the movements of the different protagonists intruding into the architectural “stage set”.
  • The Transcripts explicit purpose was to transcribe things normally removed from conventional architectural representation, namely the complex relationship between spaces and their use, between the set and the script, between “type” and “program”, between objects and events.
  • The dominant theme of the Transcripts is a set of disjunctions among use, form, and social values, the non-coincidence between meaning and being, movement and space, man and object was the starting condition of the work.
  • Yet the inevitable confrontation of these terms produced effects of far ranging consequence.
  • The Transcripts tried to offer a different reading of architecture in which space, movement and events were independent, yet stood in a new relation to one another, so that the conventional components of architecture were broken down and rebuilt along different axes.

“Architecture only survives where it negates the form that society expects of it. Where it negates itself by transgressing the limits that history has set for it.”

“To achieve architecture without resorting to design is an ambition often in the minds of those who go through the unbelievable effort of putting together buildings.”

“Architecture is not about creating a static envelope. In other words, the building is always about movement in space.”

In many ways I prefer the images of Lerner with people because they show what the building is for.

One day, a dance company decided to use the building for a performance. People were sitting outside the building and looking into the spectacle on the ramps. They had understood the building.

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Thank you Sheru for this brillaint presentation

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