Paris-based firm LAN Architecture, directed by Benoît Jallon and Umberto Napolitano, have beat out such firms as Snøhetta, Duthilleul, and a team of Philippe Madec and Ruedi Baur Integral Laboratory Workshop to win a competition to design a refurbishment and extension of the Grand Palais in Paris.
The Grand Palais, located between the Siene and the Champs-Elysees, is an exhibition hall and museum complex built for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. Designed in the Beaux Arts style, it incorporates rich neoclassical decoration and formal planning—but with a twist. The Palais was one of the first buildings to use innovative iron and light-steel framed construction, along with large swaths of glass, and was on the cutting-edge with its use of reinforced concrete. This odd mix of Beaux Arts and early modern construction is akin to what is known as Art Nouveau.
LAN's proposal incorporates understated, contemporary elements to update this lavish, spectacular building. The new, streamlined atrium, with white floors and smooth surfaces, connects the galleries more organically with their surrounding urban spaces. Inside, LAN's clean, minimal white planes provide a playful, yet harmonious, contrast with the original orgiastic green columns. Other highlights include new lights and flexible galleries surrounding the main preamble, as well as subtle updates to reception areas, circulation, and meditation spaces. LAN will work closely with French Chief Architect of Historical Monuments, François Chatillon, and construction is expected to take up to 10 years.
The design of the original Grand Palais is based on London's Crystal Palace, which coincidentally is being rebuilt. Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield, Richard Rogers, Grimshaw, Haworth Tompkins, and Marks Barfield are working on proposals to recreate this iconic piece of British history, which could also be considered the first modernist building. Additionally, the Grand Palais's neighbor, the Eiffel Tower, is the subject of a similar renovation, to open this summer, with a revamped first floor by architects Moatti-Rivière.
While projects such as these don't seem to allow for a lot of freedom for the architect—particularly when you're dealing with some of the most famous pieces of modern European architecture—that's partly what makes them so exciting. This reframing of the past showcases where we are and where we have come from simultaneously. If architecture can manifest our economic, cultural, and political zeitgeist, then these post-industrial style renovations and re-creations of early modernist monuments might be the perfect way to memorialize the last century, and the rapid aesthetic and technological changes it witnessed.