Proceedings of the 10th DOCOMOMO International Conference pages:93-98
10th DOCOMOMO International Conference location:Rotterdam date:19-21/09/2008
Exhibition pavilions are short-lived by nature. Their promotional and ephemeral character allows for broader margins of experimentation than ‘normal’ buildings, often resulting in radical designs based on state of the art technique. As they die young, such temporary structures survive in the collective memory as a perfect and pure image without degradation, decay or defects. This image can become so obsessive that need is felt to reconstruct such a pavilion physically and permanently, as if its mythological status needed to be verified in reality. This has been the case with Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion (rebuilt on its original site in 1986) and others. Fifty years after its demolition, the legendary Philips Pavilion, designed by Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis for the 1958 Brussels World Fair is about to join this list.
Commissioned by the Dutch Philips Company, the Philips Pavilion housed the Poème Electronique, a multimedia collage about mankind and its ambivalent relationship with technology, conceived in collaboration with the composer Edgar Varèse. Today it continues to fascinate architects, researchers and the general public. Several attempts to recreate the effect of the Poème Electronique have been undertaken, but only now is the effort being made to reassemble all parts of this total work of art physically. Initiated by the Alice Foundation of Eindhoven, the reconstructed pavilion is to become a permanent construction with a flexible use as part of the conversion of the former Philips site in Eindhoven.
We address two fundamental issues: its authenticity as a permanent infrastructure and the relevance of its physical reconstruction. If we agree that recreating the structural idea embodied by the pavilion with new techniques is also a form of authenticity – albeit conceptual rather than material – the question is no longer whether we can rebuild it, but rather which pavilion do we want to build. This leads us to consider its contemporary relevance. We argue that, while the ideas embodied by the Philips Pavilion are still relevant for contemporary artistic creation, this is not necessarily true for the building itself. How then does its prophetic aura as an early prototype for time based architecture and media arts relate to its physical and permanent reconstruction? Will it continue to provoke the imagination or become an altar for nostalgia and curiosity? Finally, we ask whether an archeologically correct reconstruction of this legendary pavilion will live up to its own myth.