The opening of the Centre Georges Pompidou (CGP) in Metz last May was a coherent move by the Paris based (state-run) modern art museum. Not only does the new facility remediate a severe shortage of exhibition space, it also – like the Guggenheim - capitalizes on the huge success of a very bankable brand that has drawn millions of visitors since the CGP first opened in 1977. When in 2003, the process was started for a new CGP, the aura of the Piano & Rogers building invariably infused the Metz competition brief, inviting competitors to innovate while retaining the Zeitgeist. The winning entry by Shigeru Ban & Jean de Gastines could be described as having two distinct component parts: an assembly of three stacked exhibition spaces on the one hand, and a roof structure on the other. Today the new museum stands on a green-field site with no other buildings around and a short walk from the train station. Of all the competition entries, the Ban/Gastines design most clearly expressed an image of structural innovation and typological renewal consistent with Shigeru Ban’s body of work. Since the early 1990’s, Ban has addressed issues pertaining to materiality and space with a distinctive approach that has never been fully japanese or western. Three of his case study houses (Grid House, Furniture House, Paper House) best express his desire to implement concepts of structural and spatial organization, using various construction techniques and/or focusing on different aspects of the programme, but always bringing programme, structure and space together. Prior to Metz, Ban had used an impressive array of materials and building systems, from PVC tensile roof systems and cellular polycarbonate to cast-in-place concrete and structural steel, all of them in distinctive fashion, in specific contexts. His interest in building structures seems not just motivated by a concern for technique or elegance but also to show how fundamentally these affect architectural expression as a whole. Asked what the Paris and Metz CGP have in common, the architect responds “nothing except innovation”. Certainly, the Paris building was ground breaking not only typologically and structurally but also in how it epitomized the cultural sensitivity of an entire era. Synthesizing Archigram’s utopia and using naval industry techniques to manufacture the gigantic trusses, the building was an unprecedented achievement, a complete, cohesive act. “Innovation” in Metz serves an entirely different goal. The Metz CGP stands out immediately for its roof structure and roofing material: respectively, a complex three-dimensional timber laminate frame and a Teflon fabric (PTFE: polytetrafluoroethylene) covering stretched over the curved lattice (in order to perform structurally, fabric needs to be stretched and curved either synclastically or anticlastically). The base concept for the roof structure is said to have been that of a Chinese hat where thin leaf-strips are woven to provide a stable three-dimensional big-top like structure. A peak and compression ring at the perimeter are necessary structural components. But unlike the Chinese hat, what strikes the visitor in Metz is the sheer weight of a roof structure paradoxically supporting a very lightweight material. Because stretched fabric generates tremendous tension in all directions, all perimeter edges need to resist uplift forces. This – combined with the absence of tie down cables - explains the size of the perimeter beam and roof parts. It seems odd that a roof membrane, which could have been easily supported by a lightweight cable structure, should necessitate such a costly and complex timber structure. What seems to be in conflict here is the impression that the Chinese hat concept was merely used for its evocative imagery of traditional arts and crafts rather than in response to specific site and programme requirements. Adapting the Chinese hat weave pattern to the mega-scale of this building tends to defeat the purpose since tremendous effort has gone into turning something very simple into something extremely complex and expensive. What further strikes the visitor walking into the building is the apparent disconnect between exhibition spaces and roof grid. This is sharply felt in the semi-outdoor terraces that open onto the interstitial spaces between roof membrane and exhibition boxes. The roof seems to be set apart from all the exhibition spaces, bearing no organizational or spatial relationship with any other parts of the building. The only interface between them is the central steel tower (from which the fabric is hung and which also serves as an elevator shaft) and discreet roof openings (which allow exhibition boxes to pop-out). Oddly enough, these exhibition spaces do not enjoy natural lighting through the translucent fabric nor does the fabric profit from gallery space lighting, requiring its own separate backlighting system at night. Unlike the CGP in Paris, the Metz museum uses innovation to flaunt an evocative image rather than create a renewed and comprehensive experience. It seems made of discreet parts brought together to achieve maximum visual impact. In Paris, without the massive trusses, the Gerberettes, the façade tie-rods, none of the organizational criteria could have been achieved. The work of Ted Happold and Peter Rice clearly served a functional purpose as well as a structural and architectural one, as no parts can be taken away without affecting the building as a whole, structurally, functionally and semantically. As one city official put it at the new building opening, this museum needs to “capture interest”, be “an identified object”. In that respect the Metz CGP clearly responds to the project brief. It will also undoubtedly acquire iconic status, something museums no longer seem able to do without.