Snøhetta has completed the new headquarters for the French press group, Le Monde Group, in Paris, France. The headquarters brings together 1600 employees under the same roof in a generously arching building.
A translucent, dynamic façade and expansive public plaza express the building’s openness to its surrounding context.
Sitting adjacent to the historic Gare d’Austerlitz train station, the project is a close neighbour to the historic Latin Quarter and the gardens of the Jardin des Plantes. The concave form of the building bridges over the below-grade railyard, anchored on both sides with two seven-storey cantilevering volumes held together by a complex network of steel. Three gestural ‘cuts’ shape the building mass: the ‘sky cut’ reveals the oblique surface of the solar-panel-clad roof; the ‘city cut’ pulls the building back from the along its street-facing façade; and the ‘ground cut’ carves out the underside of the bridging structure, enveloping the new public plaza together beneath its expansive arched form.
A uniting structure at the heart of modern-day Paris
The 23,000-m2 (2137-sf) Le Monde Group headquarters is built at the intersection of the old, historic parts of the French capital, and the more modern districts on the Rive Gauche. A previously industrialized area with railway tracks, the district has experienced development since the beginning of the 1990s.
The building’s outer skin is composed of more than 20,000 pixelated glass elements in a strictly organized pattern with 772 possible configurations that give the building a sheer appearance, which shifts with the changing weather and light conditions. Each glass element represents one distinct pixel classified on an opacity scale ranging from transparent to fully opaque depending on its placement, allowing for the best views from the building as well as maximizing daylight penetration. This pattern references the printed letters of newspapers and magazines and makes up a text-like pattern that can be read more clearly when the 10,000 m2 (929-sf) façade is seen from afar.
Spanning 80 m (262 ft) from one side to another, the building is a response to the conditions and challenges of the site: Acquired by the Le Monde Group in 2014, the site is situated just above the railways and platforms of the Gare d’Austerlitz, which makes the creation of a technical basement impossible. The first challenge, therefore, was to construct a building where the entire technical system of the building would be cleverly incorporated into the structure itself. The second challenge was that the site could only carry a specific amount of weight, and only on the two extremities. As the middle section was not planned to hold the weight of a building, the client’s initial brief was to create two buildings on the parts of the site that were buildable.
Snøhetta and local design partner SRA’s response to these challenges was to work on the idea of merging the two units together through a bridging structure of steel that would literally leapfrog from one side of the site to the other: a demanding engineering task for a building that weighs more than the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, it was a necessary one: only a unified building would create the dynamic environment needed to unite the different magazine and newspaper titles of the Le Monde Group.
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