Scitech: Case Study 1-Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center

Jean-Marie_Tjibaou_Cultural_Centre_mapJean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center

  • Located: Peninsula off of Nouméa, New Caledonia
  • Architect: Renzo Piano
  • Construction: (1991-1998)
  • Erected in honor of assassinated political leader
  • Pays homage to Kanak culture by intertwining local ancient building traditions with modern techniques

Design Process of Architect

Renzo Piano is a Pritzker Prize winning, Italian architect best known for pus­hing the li­mits of building technology and detail. While he is a proponent of using modern solutions to answer architectural problems, he does not allow this view to dictate the design. Rather for Piano, technology is a means to and end as well as something that is a part of nature.

sketch renzoPiano’s design process can be more accurately described as attempting to strike a balance between technology and creativity without following any single approach to form or theory. Working between drawing, sketch models, and the computer, he assesses the po­ten­tial of a par­ti­cu­lar si­tua­tion by being conscientious of all the specifics of a project, especially the to­po­gra­phy or urban fa­bric of the building’s site.

That is exactly what occurred in his design and execution of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cul­tural Centre in New Caledonia.

 Tjibaou-Cultural-Center-8Design Approach to Project

The design of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cul­tural Centre in New Caledonia was done under unique circumstances. Piano and his team were working under post-colonial conditions and had to be conscientious of their position as outsiders and realize whatever was created would become a symbol.

They ended up focusing heavily on the landscape and using the traditional huts of the native Kanak civilization, which comprised slender ribs of the lath structures, as a precedent. The end design was a symbolic arrangement of 10 units called “cases,” or hut pavilions. These cases were vertical tubes arranged around a central rectangular axis in three groups or village clusters with one tall hut (at 92 feet high). In contrast, the interior spaces took on a more contemporary approach with modern facilities and other accommodations.

One other concept that was at the forefront of the design was natural ventilation. In this project, simulation tools, mainly models and computer software, were used to evaluative the feasibility of the design before construction. The models were constructed so that they actually functioned like the building so that potential hurdles could be pinpointed out before construction.drawing_file_876_fr


According to Piano, the architect should understand his materials and use them to the best of their conditions.  In this case, the dearth of construction options (in regards to labor skill and material resources) pushed Piano to use a kit- of part approach. This meant that the majority of materials would be prefabricated ( in France) then brought over to the site. Piano selected glass, steel, corrugated aluminum, bamboo, and African Iroko wood as his primary materials. Iroko had a particular significance (selected for the exterior) because of its durability, connection to the natural landscape, and its ability to evoke the appearance of the traditional huts.

The walls of the cases where comprised of two concentric rings creating a double skin or a hybrid system. The interior ring/wall was composed of vertical columns of laminate iroko wood while the exterior ring/wall used curved laminated wooden members. Horizontal and diagonal steel bracing and connections were used to connect the two rings and make them rigid. This screening element is used to control the amount of heat, solar gain, and ventilation in the cases.  The roof also has a double skin system made of corrugated aluminum sheets and glass.

Use of Environmental Systems


The climate of New Caledonia is a temperate one with four distinct seasons and variations in temperatures from a winter low of 65 F to a summer high of 93 F. The average relative humidity is about 75% RH. March is when the island receives extreme weather. This includes torrential rain, winds, and even cyclones.

windsWind, orientation, and passive cooling

When there are no breezes coming off the water, the unique shape of the shell creates a Venturi Effect which pulls hot, stale air up through the space between the two shells and out of the building.To maximize cooling, the cultural center takes advantage of a passive cooling system enabled by its unique conical shape and a system of operable roof skylights, screen of laminated wood, louvres, and fixed windows. The building primarily uses two effects to push hot air out of the top: The Venturi effect and the Stack effect.

When there is a light to moderate wind (which is the majority if the time) the building uses the Stack effect. Simply by opening the series of horizontal louvres at the base of the interior façade, cool, moist air is allowed to blow in off of a nearby lagoon into the interior spaces. These louvres automatically open and close in tandem and are controlled by an integrated computer system which constantly calibrates the speed of the wind. The exterior shell wall will then work in conjunction as its orientation to the south allows the sun to beat down on it causing the air between the two layers of the double-skinned to heats up and rise out of the cavity.  For other wind conditions the unique shape of the structure in addition to the louvres system below the roof, which is fixed open, permits air pressure to balance between the interior and exterior.

drawing_file_1361_frLighting and Solar Radiation Controls

The space also uses both artificial and natural lighting. In regards to natural lighting, bamboo walls filter light into the interior spaces. On the exterior, the verticality of the cases shade the roof from the direct sun helping to control the temperature in the interior spaces. Additionally, temperature is controlled through the double roof system. The high reflectivity of aluminum screen bounces a large amount of oncoming solar radiation. Coupled with the natural ventilation occurring underneath the residual heal is driven off.


Biwole, P.H., M. Woloszyn, and C. Pompeo. “Heat Transfers in a Double Skin Roof Ventilated by Natural Convection in Summer Time.” (n.d.): 1-36. Centre De Thermique De Lyon. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <;.

“Cultural Center Jean Marie Tjibaou.” Architecture of the World. En.wikiarquitectura, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <;.

Crawford, Scott. “An Architecture of Relationships Built on the Use of Parametric Modeling and Evaluative Analysis in Design.” Thesis. University of Washington, 2009. University of Washington Graduate School. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. <;.

“Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center – Centre Kanak.” ArchINFORM Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <>.

Professor, Terri Meyer Boake Associate. “Understanding the General Principles of the Double Skin Façade System.” (n.d.): 1-18. School Of Architecture, University Of Waterloo, Nov. 2003. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

“Renzo Piano.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004, “Piano, Renzo.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.. 2014, and James Stevens Curl. “Renzo Piano.” HighBeam Research, 01 Jan. 2004. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

“Tjibaou Cultural Center Case Study.” (n.d.): 1-8. ISites Harvard University. Web.


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