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Local Matters / Architecture & Landmarks

Ambitious renovation of Paris’ iconic La Samaritaine gets the green light back

La Samaritaine Paris France

France’s highest administrative court reverses earlier rulings, finds that the proposed glass facade is sufficiently in harmony with Paris existing architecture.

The twice-halted renovation of La Samaritaine will finally move forward after years of legal wrangling. The French Conseil d’Etat – the country’s supreme court for administrative rulings – reversed the decisions of lower courts blocking the project, and explicitly ruled that no further challenges could be entertained by the courts going forward. With planning permission definitively reinstated, work can now resume on the estimated €500 million redevelopment plan.

The designated historic landmark sits on the right bank in the heart of the 1st arrondissement, between the Rue de Rivoli and the Quai de la Mégisserie. La Samaritaine, one of Paris’ celebrated grands magasins (department stores)  first opened in 1870, and grew over the years to encompass four buildings and over 48,000 m2 of retail space. Sales steadily declined starting in the 1960s, and in 2001 the founding family – who still owned it – had to cede ownership because of tremendous debt to LVMH, the parent company of luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Dior. The department store closed its doors in 2005.

The renovation plans commissioned by LVMH were conceived by Japanese architect duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA Architects. The complete overhaul, inside and out, includes 26,000 square meters of retail space spread over three floors, social housing apartments, a 60-spot public nursery, offices and a hotel.

The main point of contention is a planned screen-printed wavy glass facade for the length of the building along the rue de Rivoli. Detractors say that it looks like a shower curtain, and that it offends the area’s historic Haussmann-style architecture.

The legal challenge, brought by the nonprofit Society for the Protection of Landscapes and the Aesthetics of France, contended that the city of Paris did not follow its own urban planning regulations (PLU) in granting the permit. Under the PLU, any new construction must take into account the characteristics of the facades of neighboring buildings, as well as the facade of the building it is replacing. They argued that the modern, imposing facade did not fit that standard. The lower courts agreed, and halted the renovation late last year.

In its June 19th decision, the Conseil d’Etat ruled that the lower courts had too strictly interpreted the PLU as requiring “architectural mimicry” such that any contemporary or innovative project could never be allowed. The court focused on the presence of a number of Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in  the area that deviate from the 18th and 19th century Haussmann style. The court further noted that other nearby buildings also have glass facades; and that the height and other exterior features of the proposed renovation were consistent with neighboring buildings.

Onward Paris…

Photo: © Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / Sanaa

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