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American Center
51 rue de Bercy
Paris 12e

The American Center’s announcement in the mid 1980’s of their plans to commission and build Gehry’s geometrically challenging building in Bercy was immediately met with criticism. Skeptics felt that the building’s $41 million price tag posed too much of a financial burden on the Center—whose mission is to support cultural, educational, and artistic activities. The Center’s 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 Center’s 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.

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The architecture of the building might be understood best against the backdrop of Gehry’s 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 Bilbao’s is definitively exuberant, the American Center’s geometry seems almost indeterminate—sometimes 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.

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Jay Berman 1998


How to visit

Take the Metro to Bercy and walk south east on rue de Bercy.

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


3791316788_m.gif (14084 bytes) Paris: Contemporary Architecture
Andrea Gleiniger, Gerhard Matzig and Sebastian Redecke

A readable and particularly well illustrated description of 20 recent archiectural projects in Paris, including but not limited to the Grands Projets. Includes a map for visiting them.



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