The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, New Caledonia
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center is a center dedicated to New Caledonia’s Kanak culture, located near the city of Nouméa on the Grande Terre island.
Named after New Caledonian independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989, this 8,188-square-meter / 88,100-square-foot complex was built in the late 1990s as a symbol of pacification between the people of New Caledonia (a French Overseas Territory) and France.
The center is aimed to present and promote the indigenous Kanak culture, its traditions, languages, craftsmanship, and arts.
For that reason, Piano designed the complex including many references to Kanak’s traditional architecture. For example, the center consists of ten circular pavilions, of three different sizes, inspired by the traditional cone-shaped wooden hut, called Grand Case, which forms the main venue for the activities of New Caledonia’s villages as well as the residence of their chiefs.
Yer, unlike the traditional huts, which are semi-temporary structures made of locally-harvested vegetable fibers, the center’s pavilions are built with durable materials, including iroko wood, laminated timber, aluminum, steel, and glass.
From 20 to 28 meters (65 to 82 feet) high and with a floor area ranging from 55 to 140 square meters (592 to 1506 square feet), the ten pavilions are connected by an elongated “spine”, a 250-meter-long covered footpath, slightly curved, which gives access to the main functional spaces of the complex.
The pavilions are divided into three main functional groups. The first group accommodates exhibition spaces focused on the Kanak culture; the second group contains a conference room, a library, and a media library; the third group houses studios for music, dance, painting, sculpture, and applied arts; finally, the tenth pavilion contains a cafe. The center also includes a 400-seat auditorium, an open-air theater for 4500, a pavilion for temporary exhibitions, artist workshops, storage areas, administration offices, a shop, and various visitor facilities.
Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa, New Caledonia; view from the north; photo Gérard (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, plan and section; images courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Exterior view of the hut-like pavilions designed by Piano; photo David Stanley (CC BY 2.0).
Exterior and interior views of a traditional Kanak hut; pictures by David takes photos via Flickr.
The center is located on a peninsula – on the outskirts of Nouméa, the capital city of New Caledonia – bordered on three sides by the Pacific Sea and a lagoon. The area is covered by lush vegetation, consisting of mangroves, Agathis trees, fig trees, araucarias, cypresses, and other coniferous and non-coniferous indigenous species. Piano and landscape architects Desvigne & Dalnoky designed the center’s landscaping to re-create the close relationship between villages and nature typical of many Melanesian cultures; for example, the clusters of pavilions are surrounded by open-air communal areas, reminiscent of the outdoor space in which most of Kanak people’s social life and everyday activities takes place.
An aerial view of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center on the Tina peninsula; photo Gérard.
The center amidst the New Caledonian landscape; photos by David takes photos (up) and Gérard.
The project of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center is deeply rooted in the concept of sustainability by design, rather than by high-end technical systems.
Therefore, cooling and passive ventilation are obtained naturally through a double facade in which air circulates freely between the layers of slatted wood, and an adjustable louver system regulates the airflow depending on the wind speed.
The south-facing facades of the pavilions were designed to shelter the building from the strong winds and storms coming from the sea during the Monsoon season, while the north facades, oriented towards the much calmer lagoon, are more open, transparent, and permeable. The covered corridor does not have sidewalls but is equipped with wood, metal, and glass louvers, designed so that natural ventilation keeps it reasonably cool, at the same time avoiding overheating by excessive direct sunlight.
Piano’s decision to use iroko, an African wood, for the pavilions’ external ribs has been criticized, sometimes; yet, the Italian architect says iroko was preferred over local wood because of its peculiar durability, low maintenance, and termite-repellent properties in tropical climates.
Sketch of the natural ventilation scheme, and model of the double facade system; images courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
An interior view of the naturally-ventilated covered walkway; image by David takes photos.
Program of activities
Along with the permanent exhibition focused on the culture, contemporary art, and heritage of the Kanak people and, in a broader sense, of Melanesian populations, the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center features a program of activities and events which includes temporary exhibitions, site-specific art installations, concerts, film screenings, theatrical performances, dances, festivals, local markets of food and craft objects, educational programs, creative workshops, and special events.
Detail of the wooden facades of the hut-like pavilions; photo by David takes photos
Views of the center from the lagoon and the north; photos Gérard
Cover image: the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in Nouméa, New Caledonia; photo Gérard.
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