by Gautam Sen, Avik ChattopadhyayJan 13, 2021
Snøhetta has completed French daily newspaper Le Monde’s massive headquarters replete with a sprawling plaza and a glittering, semi-transparent façade. Located in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, France, the headquarters for the Le Monde Group accommodates 1,600 employees, its dynamic architecture creating intrigue within the city, and connecting with the passersby and the surrounding transit. “It is a hybrid building that explores the interstices of architecture and that is conceived to be at the service of the public,” says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Founding Partner, Snøhetta.
The Le Monde Group encompasses some of France's most well-known publications such as Le Monde, Courrier International, Télérama, La Vie, l’Obs and HuffPost. Previously scattered across different spots in Paris, the headquarters unites all six newsrooms under one roof for the first time.
Designed in collaboration with local partner SRA Architectes, the 23,000 sqm Le Monde Group Headquarters sits at the intersection of the historic parts of the French capital, and the more modern districts on the Rive Gauche. Previously an industrial area informed by railway tracks, the region has seen mass development since the 1990s, emerging as a high-density commercial and business district.
Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, expressed her contentment for the project and believes that it will contribute greatly to the district’s advancement. “At a time where information and dialogue are more essential than ever, my hope is that the project’s openness becomes the heart of this exchange, promoting transparent and accessible information for all,” she says.
The colossal building spans 80 metres from one end to another, its concave centre responding to the site’s location above the railways and platforms of the Gare d’Austerlitz. This meant that the site (acquired by Le Monde in 2014) could only carry a specific amount of weight, and that too, only on its two extreme ends. Another challenge was to construct a building where its entire technical system could be amalgamated seamlessly into the design itself, since a basement could not be added.
To combat this, two seven-story cantilevering volumes sitting at the edges are connected via a bridging steel network “that would literally leapfrog from one side of the site to the other: a highly demanding engineering task for a building that weighs more than the Eiffel Tower,” according to Snøhetta. The HQs envelopes the new public plaza and bridges over the rail yard below. Three gestural cuts inform the office architecture - the ‘sky cut’ exposes the solar-panel-clad roof’s oblique surface while the ‘city cut’ pulls the volume back from along its street facing façade. The ‘ground cut’ carves out a hunk from the underside of the mass, outlined by the sweeping arch.
“Since its inception, the Le Monde Group Headquarters has embodied an architectural and symbolic counterpoint to the many challenges our societies face today. The building is primarily about opening up in a time where fear and uncertainty pushes our societies to increase barriers and strengthen security enforcement,” Thorsen remarks.
The outer skin is dressed in more than 20,000 pixelated glass elements placed in an organised pattern with 772 possible configurations. This renders an attention-grabbing translucency to the structure’s skin that keeps shifting as the weather and light conditions change. Thorsen explains that each glass element denotes one distinct pixel classified on an opacity scale, from transparent to fully opaque depending on its placement. The 10,000 sqm glass façade also signifies the printed letters of newspapers and magazines and form a text-like pattern that can be read clearly from afar.
The Le Monde Group Headquarters invites us to reflect on how architecture can create spaces that can be both public and private, exterior and interior, transparent or opaque. – Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Founding Partner, Snøhetta
Visitors are greeted at the broad concrete public plaza on the ground floor spruced up with lush vegetation. The warmly lit arch is cast in-situ concrete, hand treated to create a textured finish. Along from the customised concrete benches here, retail spaces sit underneath the arch and increase public engagement. The concrete materiality references the urban context of the building, fostering a sense of continuity and consistency, “as if parts of the ground were gently peeled back and fused into the arching roof soaring above the plaza". The plaza also encourages green mobility alternatives with more than 300 bicycle parking slots and its location near the neighbouring public train station.
Entries to the building are positioned on either ends. One is a public entrance that leads to food and retail services and a two-story auditorium. The other one opens into an all-white reception area for parts of the building, which are only accessible to the Le Monde Group. This area’s grey-scaled concrete terrazzo flooring references the plaza outside.
Each entry gives way to two huge amphitheater stairs that ascend to the third floor, acting as informal meeting spaces. These stairs also lead to the auditorium through an open reception. The rest of the floor consists of a staff cafeteria and restaurant, along with meeting rooms and back office functions. The second floor features a library, a staff restaurant and an analogue archive dedicated to the Le Monde Group.
Between the third and eight floors, the headquarters hosts open office spaces with a ceiling integrated heating, ventilation and lighting system. Its floor to ceiling windows overlook river Seine and the bright, historic Parisian cityscape. Similar views can be enjoyed on the building’s top floor that leads into an open-air terrace framed by greens, and can be reached from both sides of the building.
Offices are roomy, well lit, and offer a diversity of flexible workspaces that integrate over 100 private work areas and over forty meeting rooms. A double-spiral staircase links floor five and six, along with the newsroom, “breaking down artificial collaboration barriers and securing that information may be shared easily across the entire newsroom.”
Snøhetta revealed the project’s renders back in 2015, a few weeks after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo Magazine’s headquarters. The French daily newspaper selected this design for their home, “opting for a building that remains in open dialogue with the city of Paris and its inhabitants,” and reflecting on the group’s principle of providing accessible information to all. The headquarters thus becomes a unifying structure at the heart of modern-day Paris, its open pockets of space and the shimmering translucent façade symbolising freedom of speech, and the spirit of the editorial groups that the structure is now home to.
Speaking about these sketches, Snohetta says that “Upon request from the Le Monde Group, the artist Frédéric Chaume documented progress on the building site three or four times a week from October 2017 until June 2020. His striking drawings are based on more than 250 visits to the building site and provide a unique glimpse into the world of architecture, urban development and construction.” The Le Monde Group HQs opened to public this year, and has already received the prestigious French real estate prize, the Grand Prix SIMI, within the category “New Office Building Larger than 10,000 m².”
Name: Le Monde Group Headquarters
Location: 67 Avenue Pierre Mendès-France 75013 Paris, France
Area: 22 933 sqm net (SDP)
Year of completion: 2020
Client: Le Monde Group, Redman IDF
Architect, Landscape, Interior Architecture: Snøhetta
Local Architect: SRA Architectes
Project coordinator, Building site: CICAD
Engineering Consultants: Bollinger & Grohmann
Structure Engineers: Khephren Ingeniérie
Supervising Office: Veritas
Environmental Consultants: Green Affair
Fire Consultants: CSD-Faces
HVAC Consultants: Barbanel
Facade Engineers: Arcora
Kitchen Consultants: Conceptions Nouvelles
Structures and Façade: Eiffage construction + Goyer
Arch Façade: Glauser + AAB
Partitions, plastering, painting: Vallée