After surpassing many hurdles, SANAA's renovation of La Samaritaine Department Store is set to open its doors to the public. The redesign of the Parisian retail institution reinstates its historical value while bringing a contemporary contribution to its architecture.
Founded in 1870, La Samaritaine is an icon of Paris, emblematic of the Second Empire's era and the emergence of this new architectural typology that would revolutionise retail- the department store. What started as a small shop expanded to a series of buildings occupying two urban blocks at one end of Pont Neuf. The architectural monument is the site of an interplay of Art Nouveau and Art Deco elements.
The department store closed in 2005 due to building safety reasons, and the general redevelopment project was assigned to world-renowned architecture practice SANAA. The scheme involved an extensive remodelling of the early 20th century buildings and a programmatic reinvention of the urban island. Aside from the retail area, the project comprises a 5-star hotel, 96 social housing units, offices and a nursery.
The new retail area is distributed across three floors along a central circulation axis connecting buildings at both ends of the site. On Rue Rivoli, SANAA brings a contemporary architectural gesture to mark the rebirth of the Samaritaine, writing a new page in the history of this emblematic place for Paris. The new wavy glass façade is, in fact, a continuation of the avant-garde spirit and research on glass that characterised the work of La Samaritaine's original architects, Frantz Jourdain and Henri Sauvage. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa describe their intervention as a negotiation with the building's monumental scale and the strong border of the Rue Rivoli. The double-skin façade reflects the ornaments of the surrounding architecture and brings about a movement that invites the public to explore the urban block.
However, one of the central undertakings was the restoration project. The iconic Art Nouveau elements of the façade and its coloured enamel tiles have been restored, together with the grand staircase and the glass skylight of the department store's atrium. In addition, the 17th-century apartment block on the Rivoli section is being refurbished into social housing by architect François Brugel, while Edouard François was in charge of transforming the building on the Seine riverside into a hotel.
The design faced a series of challenges as work was halted several times due to court rulings, resulting from strong opposition from several heritage groups. Now almost a decade in the making, the project was set to open its doors last spring, but the pandemic delayed the event to this year.
Images via Simón García