by Jerry ElengicalFeb 25, 2022
Completed during the 1960s by French architects Albert Laprade, Pierre-Victor Fournier, and René Fontaine to house city administration, the former 'Préfecture de Paris' building along the banks of the Seine in the 4th arrondissement of France's capital has been given a new identity through an adaptive reuse intervention. Conducted by an interdisciplinary team headed by David Chipperfield Architects Berlin, CALQ Architecture, and French real estate developer Emerige in association with Michel Desvigne Paysagiste and Studio Other Spaces, the building’s rebirth has seen its previously introverted public face on Paris's Boulevard Morland metamorphose into one that is far more transparent and inviting. Furthermore, the intervention has subsequently reconfigured the program to a mixed-use architectural typology, accommodating upscale and affordable housing, a hotel, a youth hostel, offices, retail, a gallery, a food market, and a childcare facility.
The design team, directed by celebrated British architect David Chipperfield, was enlisted to carry out the project after winning an international competition promoted as ‘Réinventer Paris’ - initiated by the city government back in 2014 to rejuvenate the capital and improve its citizens’ quality of life. Selected from a pool of three finalists, the project was one among those put forth by a cohort of interdisciplinary teams who worked on proposals for 23 sites across Paris. The new development, christened as the 'Morland Mixité Capitale' is the product of an extensive refurbishment, extension, and remodelling of the original complex.
Flanked by a pair of nine-storey wings, the earlier 16-storey tower framed an H-shaped layout with a public square facing the boulevard. Composed of a concrete frame structure clad in stone - as was typical for the era - the building rises to a height of 50 metres, as a visually prominent part of the city skyline along its main waterway. For a time, it was also one of Paris’ tallest buildings, alongside the headquarters of UNESCO and NATO. Among its contemporaries at the time of opening, it was regarded as a state-of-the-art office building, fitted with implements such as an internal telephone exchange and a pneumatic tube network for mail distribution. The architects mention in an official release, “For five decades, the complex served the city’s population as an administrative building. Nevertheless, its imposing size, rational architectural expression and limited public accessibility made it seem like a foreign body in the urban fabric of Paris, rather than an organic part of the city.”
However, over the years, the central square had grown to become devoid of life, reinforced by the immense scale of the structure and its prosaic, gridded façade design - an intimidating spectacle for passers-by. Since the building’s condition at the time of the competition was still more conducive to reuse rather than demolition, the design team saw it as an opportunity to preserve and recontextualise the classical sensibility of the structure. Reuse was also the preferred option due to its lower carbon footprint when compared to the prospect of demolition and fresh construction. The new remodel seeks to distance itself from its earlier closed-off image, opening it up to the public and adding a pair of new volumes that transform its streetside frontage along Boulevard Morland and Quai Henri IV. These additions have also altered the extent of the building’s former forecourt into a more intimate series of three courtyards between the blocks.
Raised atop sequences of vaulted, load-bearing arcades that generate a new passage at the ground level, the glazed edifices of the newly added volumes complement the external grid of the older structure. The extensions also bridge the sections of plot between the existing wings. For instance, the block towards Boulevard Morland mediates the visual dominance of the tower, moving the address and entrance of the complex back to the street while its counterpart along Quai Henri IV serves to merge with adjoining turn-of-the-century buildings.
On the other hand, as portals framing the courtyard, the arcades, made of in-situ concrete imbue a sense of grace and familiarity to the ensemble, converging with the tower on the second floor to unite all the built forms on site. In the courtyard, they provide an informal means of spatial division through the bundling of column shafts, allowing the space under the arches to be used for a variety of purposes. The evident classical influence seen in their profiles also brings a sense of coherence to the contrasting appearances of old and new structures in the complex. As shared by David Chipperfield Architects, “Both on Boulevard Morland and on Quai Henri IV, their clear tectonic and sculptural forms mark the new connecting route for everyone who visits, lives in, or passes through the building complex.”
Hence, the new image of the complex has been carefully shaped to correspond with a campus typology with abundant public space, as opposed to the closed-off nature of an office building. The ground floor is almost entirely open to the public with a pathway running from Boulevard Morland to Quai Henri IV, from where the rooftop bar on the two uppermost floors can be accessed. Retail facilities, restaurants, and courtyards have been opened up to visitors, in addition to the swimming pool, which will also welcome students from schools in the locality. This restructuring of accessibility to amenities is a measure that has been incorporated to ensure active public use throughout the day - an essential factor in breathing new life into the development. “By integrating a diverse variety of private and public functions, the project creates a microcosm, a city within the city,” notes the design team.
Most of the original cream-coloured limestone cladding panels of the columns and façades have been cleaned and retained in the renovation process, and only damaged slabs were replaced to minimise material wastage. Another component of the sustainable design considerations included in the project come in the form of the green courtyards, ornamental gardens, and vertical urban gardening assemblies along the terraced roofscape, which assist in rainwater harvesting. These areas are irrigated by means of a closed phyto-purification system which reuses greywater from the youth hostel.
Finally, the 15th and 16th floors of Morland Mixité Capitale host a site-specific art installation titled The seeing city, by Ólafur Elíasson and Sebastian Behmann from Studio Other Spaces Berlin. Consisting of a mirrored ceiling on the lower floor, coupled with kaleidoscopic boxes along the faces of the level above, the installation blends images of the sky and cityscape into an infinite number of fragmented permutations between interior and exterior. The studio relays in a statement, “The two levels are transformed into an immersive optical apparatus that transports Parisian street life to the rooftop and its interior spaces, while reflecting the activity in those spaces back down to the city below.” In this vein, the development’s figurative ‘crown’ is a salient reflection of the project’s primary ambition - that of blending the formerly desolate mid-century structure back into the urban fabric of Paris. A goal that will hopefully come to be realised in times to come.
Name: Morland Mixité Capitale
Location: Paris, France
Year of Completion: 2022
Gross Floor Area: 63,500 sqm
Client: Société Parisienne du Nouvel Arsenal
Project Controlling: Emerige, Paris
Architect: David Chipperfield Architects Berlin, CALQ Architecture
Partners: David Chipperfield, Christoph Felger (Design Lead), Harald Müller
Project Architects: Ronan Burke (Competition), Wiebke Ahues (Preparation
and brief to Technical design, Site design supervision), Anne Hengst (Deputy project architect Developed design to Technical design)
Project Team: Rodrigo Antón Carrasquer, Wolfgang Baumeister, Jana Bolten, Axel Burkhard, Mirjam von Busch, Emmi Frank, Álvaro González Zanetich, Anne Hengst, Paul Hillerkus, Enise Kocaman, Katharina Loges, Maximilian Lohmann, Sandra Morar, Carthage Murphy, Rebecca Odewole, Joshua Saunders, André Silva Oliveira;
Visualisation: Konrad Basan, Ken Polster, Simon Wiesmaier
Competition Team: Rodrigo Antón Carrasquer, Ivan Dimitrov, Bertram Dreyer, Pavel Frank, Paul Hillerkus, Cyril Kriwan, Carthage Murphy, Elsa Pandozi, Christof Piaskowski, Lydia Ramakers, Joshua Saunders, Noriyuki Sawaya, Iason Tsironis, Niklas Veelken, Jaro Venitz, Marc Warrington, Amelie Wegner, Max Werner, Annabell Wolf;
Graphics, Visualisation: Maude Orban, Simon Wiesmaier, Ute Zscharnt
Quantity Surveyor: CB économie, Chartres
Contact Architect: BRS-Architectes, Paris (Procurement)
Executive Architect, Local Partner: Calq Architecture, Paris (Local partner early phases: responsible for interior for existing buildings, Executive architect construction supervision)
General Contractor: Bouygues, Paris
Structural Engineer: Somete, Paris, Bollinger & Grohmann, Berlin
Services Engineer, Building Physics: Barbanel Ingénierie, Toulouse
Acoustic Consultant: Acoustique Vivié & Associés, Paris
Fire Consultant: MDS, Paris
Façade Consultant: Bollinger & Grohmann, Berlin
Sustainability: Etamine, Paris
Landscape Architect: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste, Paris
Art Installation: Studio Other Spaces, Berlin (Ólafur Elíasson and Sebastian Behmann)
Temporary Art Installation: Encore Heureux, Paris