Once upon a time European cities relied on cathedrals to lure pilgrims. Now they build gleaming temples devoted to the gods of art. The latest is Metz, in north-east France, with a striking new outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Designed with an eye for sustainability by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines, this captivating spaceship saw off more than 150 competing designs. Seven years and €69m later, the Centre Pompidou-Metz opened on May 12th, with 5,000 square metres of bright modular exhibition space, a studio for live performances, an auditorium and lush gardens. But the crowning glory is the roof, an undulating wooden lattice coated in a membrane of white fibreglass. It hovers, weightlessly, like a picnic blanket on a windy day.
Why Metz? Culture-hungry and shovel-ready, the city is a mere 80-minute TGV train journey from Paris and close to the middle of western Europe. (Not long ago, some people were asking "why Bilbao?") Instead of having its own collection, the centre will borrow from the 60,000 modern works held by the mothership, and rotate them regularly—promising that if you visit every two years, you won't see the same work twice. The idea is not only to dust off pieces in storage, but also to enliven the museum experience, making it more about discovery and less about duty. The inaugural exhibition, "Chefs d'oeuvre?", explores the idea of the masterpiece in the 20th century. In a certain light, the building looks like a circus tent, inviting people of all ages to behold the wonders inside.