This exquisite building can be seen in Noumea, New Caledoniasince 1998. New Caledonia (group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, 1210km East of Australia) has been an overseas territory of France since the mid nineteenth century, held against the will of local population and the reason was simple: the main island is the world’s third largest supplier of nickel. The native people (a.k.a. Kanak people) have been struggling for independence during 1980s, following their leader who was also the main negotiator: Jean-Marie Tjibaou. Tjibaou and some of his followers were killed by the Kanak extremists in 1989. At the time, president Mitterand proposed this Centre, as a celebration of the (Kanak) culture that itself produced no permanent buildings or monuments.
While visiting the site, prize-winning architect Renzo Piano was amazed by the beauty of the landscape as well as the huts woven from its plants. He decided to create a building with a minimum of disturbance of nature, restricting construction to three already bare patches that extended from land down to the lagoon without losing any major plants on the site or disturbing areas of valuable topsoil.
Working with ethnologist Alban Bensa (an expert on Kanak culture), he created a team whose assignment was to explore the organization of traditional villages. The results of this research later on reflected on the construction itself, of course. As a result, we got ten cases of three different sizes, but all made the same way using laminated iroko (a stable, termite-resistant hardwood). The inner ring (of each building) is vertical and supports the roof, while the outer, gently curved, rises higher and carries screens of wooden slats. The shapes may suggest giant baskets, but almost every detail is calculated to maximize the capacity of the trade winds to provide natural ventilation or, when the wind is light, to achieve a similar result using convention currents. Piano’s distinctive, unforgettable forms strike many as being among the most provocative precursors of a World Architecture for the twenty-first century.
written by Aleksandra Hegediš