Snøhetta has spent the better part of a year working closely with the administration of the Grand Palais and the City of Paris on the restoration of the Grand Palais historic landmark complex as part of a limited-invitation dialogue design competition.
The solution developed by Snøhetta in collaboration with local partner architect Agence Search and engineers RFR and SETEC is a subtle, yet overtly contemporary intervention into the historic structure. The scheme has been formulated to resolve the particularly complex set of requirements which so large and diverse an institution demands.
Rather than add to the architectural composition, every attempt is made to minimize superficial modifications to the landmark. A limited number of strategic, surgical-like cuts into the old structure result in a radical increase in visitor capacity and overall functionality and assure the building's status as a world-class museum complex for decades, if not centuries to come.
The Grand Palais restoration by Snøhetta and partners can be described as a small, yet powerful tool: minimal change with maximum benefit.
The Grand Palais was built for the Universal Exposition of 1900. Within the exemplary Beaux-Art facades and glass/light steel roof structures are housed numerous exhibition spaces, most notably the enormous naturally lit central hall, or Nef: home to Paris Fashion Week and several other major international events, and two museums: the Palais Decouverte, with exhibitions on topics of technology and scientific discovery, and the National Gallery, which hosts major fine art exhibitions. The goal of the rehabilitation, as described by the institution's acting president, Jean Paul Cluzel, is to unify the different exhibition halls and museums into a single institution which can offer the visitor a rich and varied experience while reinforcing the building's origins as a truly public cultural space, open to all.
The design by Snøhetta increases public access to the building's interior while simultaneously generating a strong link to unify the overall institution. The tool which affords this is simple: a new interior street for the free flow of visitors within the building.
Access to the street is through the original entrances on the east and west facades. The street serves to reinforce the axial alignment and urban connections intended by the building's original planners, placing this new addition at the service of the old. The sequence of spaces and views along the street creates a series of exciting new visual perspectives which allow for surprising and often provocative views into the building's rich history.