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Hindsight Is 20/20:
Bernard Tschumi at the Centre Pompidou
Ariela Katz, Tricia Meehan

April 30, 2014-July 28, 2014
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

The exhibition Bernard Tschumi: Concept and Notation at the Centre Pompidou in Paris is the first major European retrospective of the professional, pedagogical, and theoretical work of Bernard Tschumi. Curated by Frédéric Migayrou and Aurélien Lemonier and running from April 30 to July 28, 2014, it presents forty-five projects through a collection of over 350 drawings, sketches, collages, and models.1 A richly illustrated and commented catalog, containing curators’ and architects’ essays, as well as an interview with and selections of early theoretical texts by Tschumi, accompanies the exhibition.2 This retrospective continues the Centre Pompidou’s interest in assessing the works of architects who emerged as major representatives of the post-1968 generation, such as Renzo Piano (2000), Jean Nouvel (2001), Morphosis (2006), Richard Rogers (2007), and Dominique Perrault (2008). The difference between the Tschumi retrospective and its predecessors, especially the last two, is quite marked. This exhibition feels much less corporate, clearly highlighting Tschumi’s more intellectual approach. This difference can be seen in three distinct ways.

The second characteristic underscoring Tschumi’s intellectual positioning is the centrality of reflective thought, the spoken word, and the demonstration of ideas. The educator in Bernard Tschumi is clearly at work in the organization of contents with five levels of information. The datum of the red wall introduces the sources and origins of his thought. The pods, which can be interpreted as Tschumi’s “Five Lessons on Architecture,” establish links between concept, process, and creation. The red boxes and black tables highlight featured strategies and sources, moving in and out of focus in relation to the viewer’s position. The videos focus gathering spaces and give voice to Tschumi’s thinking. The window diagrams connect the exhibition to the city, animating the experience of the exhibition.

The exhibition pods are themselves didactic, in both construction and content. Their legible kit-of-parts assembly system, again recalling Price’s work, underpins the demonstration of constructed thought. Tschumi organizes the pod displays around questions that challenge fundamental preconceptions in architecture, such as, “Can practice follow theory?” “Can architecture be achieved without resorting to design?” or “Could … constraints be turned into a concept?”3 Throughout the exhibition, he rethinks these essential architectural notions through the prism of program, which must be understood here as the combination of space, event, and movement.

This foregrounding of didactic praxis reveals a third important characteristic of Tschumi’s theoretical/critical approach: process is at the heart of both the exhibition and its contents. Indeed, the retrospective is organized around the primary ideas of concept and notation—ideas that, for Tschumi, are guiding precepts: “there is no architecture without an idea or concept, just as there is no architecture without a method of notation to express its content. Architecture is not a study of form, but rather a form of knowledge.”4 Notation is thus understood as an essential tool for materializing an architectural concept. This position is not grounded in a predetermined aesthetic, but rather in one in which the result is far less predictable.

This anchors the experience of the exhibition itself, conceived as a process. Multiple narratives, found in both written and oral content, come into play. In the wall text, the curators’ explanatory and documentary voice alternates with Tschumi’s questioning and declarative voice. The three central video screens simultaneously project different films and interviews about the architect’s work, adding a multilayered narrative voice. Only the visitors’ own reflexive processes can integrate the dialogue of these many voices. The visitor’s experience of the exhibition is thus itself structured as a process of discovery and reflection. What appears casual or dispersed at first glance becomes increasingly coherent as one advances or retraces one’s steps, repeatedly repositioning oneself in the gallery space. The tie that binds is revealed in time, through movement and experience.


  1. Bernard Tschumi Architects, “Projects. Centre Georges Pompidou Retrospective Paris, 2014,” http://www.tschumi.com/projects/69/ (consulted August 4, 2014).
  2. Frédéric Migayrou, ed., Bernard Tschumi: Architecture: Concept and Notation, exhibition catalog (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2014).
  3. Bernard Tschumi, wall text. Also cited in ibid., 108, 136, 168.
  4. Bernard Tschumi Architects, “Projects” (note 1).- See more at: http://www.acsa-arch.org/publications/journal-of-architectural-education…

How to Cite this Article: Katz, Ariela and Tricia Meehan. “Hindsight is 20/20,” review of Bernard Tschumi: Concept and Notation, curated by Frédéric Migayrou and Aurélien Lemonier, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, April 30 – July 28, 2014, JAE Online, August 11, 2014, https://jaeonline.org/issue-article/hindsight-20-20/.