by Ronitaa ItaliaSep 02, 2019
Art Nouveau is perhaps one of the earliest movements that actively blurred the line between design, architecture, applied art and decorative art. In fact, one of its central principles was to step away from the academic and historic definition of 19th century architecture and design. Often referred to as the modern style, various versions and terms are associated with the movement. In Germany, for instance, architects and designers looked at the style as a unifying element that tied together architecture, furnishings, art and interior design in a common style, or as a total work of art,gesamtkunstwerk. Art Nouveau was often inspired by natural forms and often features sinuous curves and whiplash lines replicating the organic forms of plants and vines.
Another common characteristic that was more often seen in graphic illustration and in architectural elements such as doors and railing, of the time was the sense of dynamism and movement. The architecture inspired by the style, from the residential space by Victor Horta in Brussels to the department stores in Paris, all feature the use of what was at the time considered modern materials, particularly iron, glass, ceramics and concrete, to create unusual forms and larger open spaces. The proliferation of mass-produced and machine-made material played a huge role in the aesthetic language of Art Nouveau.
The Parisian department stores were early showcases of the Art Nouveau style.The department stores such as La Samaritaine, designed by Frantz Jourdain, is a good example of an Art Nouveau building. A later extension of the structure incorporates Art Deco elements as well. Like other department stores at the time the building was illuminated by large glass skylights, mainly due to the state of indoor lighting at the time. Gaslit fittings were a known fire risk, and the tungsten filament electric light bulbs only became available after 1902, by which point the typology was perhaps an excepted layout. When we consider it, contemporary shopping malls use a similar central atrium layout as a means of organising their setup.
The La Samaritaine was initially conceived and stylised with an Art Nouveau exterior and glass-covered interior court by architect Frantz Jourdain. The Henri Sauvage Art Deco-styled building was added in 1926. La Samaritaine was bought in 2001 by luxurygoods conglomerate LVMH and has been undergoing an intense reconstruction to bring the 19th century building to modern standards. LVMH worked primarily with Japanese architectural firm SANAA to renovate the building. In addition to SANAA, three other studios were also a part of the restoration project, namely SrAArchitectes, LagneauArchitectes, and François BrugelArchitectesAssociés.
The structure of La Samaritaine holds great historical significance. SANAA's idea was to create a new street with social and commercial activities that run through the length of the existing building, and connects the volumes of the three courtyards, one existing and two new, to create an alternating sequence of indoor activity areas and spaces. This new passage, while physical, is also an allegorical one that indicates the passage of time in relation to the city of Paris by connecting the historical façade of the Sauvage building and the new façade at the other end.
Part of the revitalised aesthetic of the new facade reimagines some of the key aspects of Art Nouveau. The soft waves of the glass create a sinuous ripple. While not a direct reference, one can draw a visual connection to Gaudi’s sinuous facades as well. To further contextualise the glass façade into the urban fabric, the reflections of the surrounding environment are transformed into a more organic version of themselves. This creates a combination of the historical and the contemporary across its surface. SANAA, in an official statement, elaborated their intention saying, “Our intention is to establish a harmonious relationship between those parts that are renovated and those that are new.”
Consisting of four structures, the second and largest building required the programme to adapt to the building so that the heritage interior elements could be preserved. The decorative elements as well as the structural ironwork were representative of the time they were built in. Featuring both Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the structure had glass floors, which were meant to allow light into the basement levels. Artificial stone adorned the metal beams and posts as a means of embellishing the bare iron structure.
Persevering all these elements was integral to the revitalisation project. Paintings, faux-stonework, ironwork, and staircases were all restored, the architects even took the opportunity to redo the glass canopy to recover the rhythm of the wooden grilles removed in the 1980s. The exterior facades retained their original appearance, with ochre-yellow enamelled lava stone, ceramics and gilding, embossed copper, sculpted wood panels, set against the original grey-blue colour of the metal structure.
The entire complex consists of multiple programs, with 20,000 square meters of shops, 15,000 square meters of offices, 7,000 square meters of housing, a day nursery with 80 cribs, and a hotel with 72 rooms and suites. Protected as a historic monument, it could not be dissociated from the other buildings formerly constituting La Samaritaine, which includes the hotel Cheval Blanc Paris. While the exterior maintains its original aesthetics, the interior was treated as a blank page by architects Peter Marino and Édouard François. The building's Art Deco façade served as the primary inspiration, with its rectilinear motifs. The hexagonal medallions and stylised floral set a softening rhythm that follows from the outside to the interiors.