Architecture seems often imbued with the notion of “gesture.” The term is mentioned in abundance both when architecture is seen as a discipline and when it is seen as a social practice. Arguments about it can be found in an artefact as well as in an act of design. In this context it may be revealed as an object to be claimed (i.e., a fetish), or stand for a trace or a carrier of meaning. Thus, in a wider scope, gesture may be discussed as a persistent – if not necessary – theme in the field’s culture.
This essay examines “gesture” as a mediator between society (including culture and power) and the practice of architecture. This will be discussed within the framework of the competition for the Centre Beaubourg (later known as Centre Georges Pompidou). The heated discourse revolving around the expression “le geste architectural,” including the proposal to design the building literally as an open hand and thereby as a gesture of offering, will be explored. We will thus show how “gesture” simultaneously creates a multifaceted existence: at once as a token of validity and a symbol of truth and beauty, as well as representing the very danger of banality. Furthermore, we will show how the Centre itself – to which was attributed the character of a feat – becomes a “political gesture” carrying the sperm that spawned the type of “heroic architecture” that is so distinctive to the Fifth Republic. Finally, we will revisit “gesture” as a token taking part in a conundrum where the modern ideal ends up substituting genuineness with genius; and we will see this binary relationship in connection to all the “gestures” we discuss in the case of the Centre Beaubourg.
On these premises we will propose that, before we ask to define “gesture” by its content, it is important to see it first and foremost for what it does; namely, that it acts as a nominator, and thereby as a mediator, and even a weaver, of the collective between architecture and society. This shift in perspective is critical, as it reveals that gesture plays a more dynamic role than any doctrine would like to have it. Ultimately, we hope to show that gesture can be seen as taking an integral part in the very fabric of architecture, instead of merely playjng a role in one of its many histories.
This essay is based on existing literature as well as original research conducted in the archives of the Centre Georges Pompidou – to which we extend our gratitude for the access.
|ScienceOpen disciplines:||Sociology, Political science, Political & Social philosophy, Urban studies, Architecture, Communication & Media studies|