The American Centers announcement in
the mid 1980s of their plans to commission and build Gehrys geometrically
challenging building in Bercy was immediately met with criticism. Skeptics felt that the
buildings $41 million price tag posed too much of a financial burden on the
Centerwhose mission is to support cultural, educational, and artistic activities.
The Centers leadership, however, gambled that the new, high-profile facility would
attract renewed interest in and donations.
Unfortunately for the American Center, operating
costs and growing debt forced the Centers board of directors to close the building
in January, 1996, only 19 months after it opened. The building has remained vacant since,
though the French Ministry of Culture announced plans to acquire the building for $21
million in July 1998 to house the Maison du Cinema, a film library and theaters.
The architecture of the building might be understood best against the backdrop of
Gehrys struggles to build the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (roughly concurrent
with the timeline of this project) and his eventual triumph at Bilbao. If Bilbaos is
definitively exuberant, the American Centers geometry seems almost
indeterminatesometimes masterful, other times awkward and circumstantial. Part of
this encompasses a struggle to square irregular geometry with ordinary office space (which
made up a substantial portion of the program). Part illustrates the intermediate step that
this building represents (somewhere between Disney and Bilbao) in the development of a
workable process to translate irregular designs into material existence.
Jay Berman 1998
How to visit
Take the Metro to Bercy and walk south east on
rue de Bercy.
Books and other web
Click the book title to view and to order direct