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Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou (read from right to left for an English translation: Georges-Pompidou Art and Culture National Center) is usually called Beaubourg because of its location along rue Beaubourg. Or Centre Georges Pompidou.

At first sight, it looks like Godzilla's washing machine. Indeed, it was built inside out: instead of hiding the air conducts and heating apparatus inside the walls, as old-fashioned architects used to do, Renzo Piano thought it would be a good idea to put them outside, on the facade. One of his goals was to allow for a complete freedom of internal organization. He probably wanted to shock the people, too. After all, avant-garde architecture seems appropriate for a museum of modern art. President Georges Pompidou, who initiated its construction in the 70s, was a modern art lover. So Beaubourg is a gigantic blue-red thing standing right in the middle of the historical center. Indeed, from the refreshment bar in the library, have a look at the houses on the other side of the piazza: some of them are extremely narrow (1 or 2 windows only) and they offer a good catalogue of the traditional Parisian architectural 17th- and 18-th century styles. Not only it's ugly, but it's not a great success as a work of architecture: only twenty years after it was built, they had to close it for a major renovation during more than a year.

And yet I love Beaubourg. If Paris had to be destroyed and I could save only one building, I would choose Beaubourg. The first reason is that Beaubourg hosts the National Museum of Modern Art, a very large museum where you can walk freely, sit down and stay for hours. Here modern means "everything since the early 20th century" : Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Léger, Alechinsky, and hundreds of others. A large part of the museum is dedicated to contemporary art, i.e works made by living artists : paintings, video, photographs, even furniture. I don't really "understand" modern art. I enjoy it, that's all.

Another reason is that Beaubourg is a very lively place. On the piazza that extends in front of the building, tourists sit and watch all kinds of performers. Then they enter the building, take the outside stairs that lead them to the top of the building. When they get above the roofs, they are struck with amazement because they see the most beautiful sunset in Paris.

The final and most important reason is that Beaubourg contains one of the best public libraries in the world, if not the best. It's open until 10 p.m. (other public institutions usually close early in France). On 3 levels and 10,000 m2, it offers 350,000 books (plus tens of thousands of newspapers, videos, maps, CDs...), all in free access. You don't even need to ask for a book: you can walk in the alleys and pick the ones you want. The entire culture of the world is there. And you will always find a free seat at a table. Or you may sit on the ground if you prefer. I know you can find things on the Internet too, but books are much more pleasant than a screen. And you have screens, too, for example to access newspapers archives or the Internet. You can even learn foreign languages (or French) on CD-ROMs or videotapes, listen to music, etc.

Many students come here for research or simply to do their homework. So you should expect to queue for more than half an hour on a Saturday afternoon. Or come after 8 pm and everything will be fine.

The only problem is that it is not always easy to find the entrance. If you come into the main hall of Beaubourg, the guards, who are not very smart people, will not let you enter the library: they will force you to go out and walk around the whole building to come in through the back entrance in a gloomy area. Well, that's true at the time of this writing: not only the rules are irrational, but they change often.

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