Pompidou centre to get pounds 50m overhaul

THE French Culture Minister, Jacques Toubon, yesterday outlined a 440m-franc ( pounds 50m) operation to overhaul the Pompidou centre, a modern glass and tubular structure opened in 1977 which has become the victim of its own success.

Mr Toubon, a leader of the Gaullist RPR party, said the centre, near the old Les Halles market, had become a 'reference for the 20th century. What we are doing marks the passing of the century with the intention that it remains the benchmark of the 21st century.' The controversial building, often likened to an ocean- going liner or an oil refinery, answered the call of the late President Georges Pompidou for a contemporary arts centre in Paris.

On a television programme last Friday, Jacques Chirac, the RPR president, hinted that he had threatened to resign as Prime Minister under Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Pompidou's successor, when he heard the centre might not be completed. Pompidou, seen as one of the architects of modern France, has become the subject of nostalgia as the 20th anniversary of his death has been commemorated this month.

Mr Toubon said the centre needed an overhaul because, intended for an original 7,000 visitors a day, it had an average of 25,000. 'The threats come from its own success,' he said.

Mr Toubon said the Pompidou centre would be closed in stages between 1997 and 1999 and remodelled 'to turn it into a beating heart'.

Mr Toubon, making the political point that Jack Lang, his Socialist predecessor, had done nothing, said the current conservative government intended to introduce 'more symmetry, rationality and order'.

While the Socialists, under President Francois Mitter rand, can be credited with the grands travaux, literally 'big works', which have produced such grandiose schemes as the Louvre pyramid and the breathtaking addition to the Louvre museum of a wing which used to house the Finance Ministry, they are reproached with ignoring routine maintenance of other cultural edifices.

The Grand Palais exhibition centre was hurriedly closed last year because of structural defects. The main Palais Garnier Opera building is to close this year for two years of renovation while the modern Opera Bastille, criticised by musicians as too cold, is due to be remodelled despite its state- of-the-art technology.