At the turn of the 20th century, Paris’s Champs-Elysées transformed from an avenue of mansions into a center of luxury shopping: Renault opened a showroom there in 1910, Guerlain arrived in 1913, Louis Vuitton in 1914, and Citroën in 1928, to name just four. So it’s not surprising to learn that in 1927, Théophile Bader, cofounder of the retail emporium Galeries Lafayette, bought up the site at numbers 52–60 avenue des Champs-Elysées with a view to building a new store there. But the 1929 stock-market crash forced him to abandon his plans, and the National City Bank of New York established its headquarters there in an Art Deco palace completed by architect André Arfvidson in 1931. The bank would remain until the 1980s, when its premises were taken over by Virgin Megastore, which occupied the building for 25 years until 2013. Now, 92 years later, things have come full circle: in late March Bader’s direct descendants, the Houzé family, inaugurated a new-concept Galeries Lafayette in Arfvidson’s building, reenvisioned by the Danish firm BIG—Bjarke Ingels Group.
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As anyone familiar with the original Galeries Lafayette will know, Bader was a keen patron of architecture, and his current descendants seem bent on reviving his enthusiasm, as attested by Guillaume Houzé’s foundation, Lafayette Anticipations, designed by OMA, which opened in Paris last year. On the Champs-Elysées, the Houzés have leased themselves a fine piece of architectural heritage—the interior is dominated by a marble-clad Art Deco atrium—which posed a double challenge: how to make a contemporary statement in a strong historical setting and how to squeeze the requisite retail program into what is essentially a large void providing only 70,000 square feet of front-of-house area.
“Today what counts is not square feet but ambience and experience,” explains Jakob Sand, a lead partner on what was BIG’s first retail commission. “While selling products, we wanted to give people the feeling of strolling through an art museum,” a goal that chimed with Galeries Lafayette’s vision for the space, which they imagined as a “curated” environment in the manner of the celebrated Parisian concept store Colette, an experience-based boutique that closed in 2017 after a successful 20-year run.
BIG’s first challenge was how to get people in, since customers must traverse a 20-foot-long passage before arriving in the atrium. Sand and his team created a luminous glass tunnel, backlit by LED points of light, inspired by artist Philippe Parreno’s series of Marquee installations, which were themselves inspired by classic American movie-theater entrances. Glitzy glamour thus sets the tone, the Parreno theme continuing inside, as immediately becomes clear in the monumental atrium, daylit once again by Arfvidson’s splendid glass-block ceiling, which Virgin had hidden behind acoustic panels. “Bjarke’s big idea,” says Mathilde Girard, architecture director at Galeries Lafayette, “was the giant steel-and-glass boxes you see cantilevering into the atrium on level three. Normally luxury goods are displayed on the ground floor, but here we have hardly any ground-floor space. We would never have considered putting luxury up on the third level, but these suspended boxes made it possible to invert the usual layout, and we were able to convince the brands.” Banking on the fact that the first thing customers will do upon entering the atrium is raise their heads, these custom-made marquee-style vitrines house rotating displays—Chanel when the store opened, Roger Vivier when RECORD visited, another brand next month.
Circulation was problematic in the Virgin Megastore, which became ever more labyrinthine the farther up one went. All that has changed. The historic escalier d’honneur still rises from the ground to the second level, but is now complemented by a bravura steel-and-glass stair, again evocative of Parreno’s Marquee series, linking the second and third floors at the building’s prow (a technical feat, given its weight of around 17 tons). Where Virgin’s architects had blocked the building’s generous windows, BIG has opened them up again, so that the new glass stair rises dramatically in front of the giant corner aperture, affording plunging views onto the sidewalk below. This promenade architecturale is matched across the atrium by a new set of escalators that were made possible by filling in a light well and that provide fast and efficient access to every floor. But, thanks to the generous facade fenestration, natural light is abundant and easy orientation ensured.
For those of us with long memories, there’s a sense of déjà vu, since Galeries Lafayette returned to the 19th-century model of the grand magasin: an architecturally impressive setting flooded with daylight and divided into departments. For here, goods are displayed according to type, not brand, except on the luxury level, although even there, Gucci, Dior, et al., were not allowed their own stands but made to accept BIG’s furnishings in a voguish vocabulary of concrete, textured glass, and galvanized steel (a contemporary foil to the building’s historic heart). The sales assistants too are curated—trendy “personal stylists” trained in-house at the Lafayette Académie—within a total environment where Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées is pushed as both a concept and a brand, aimed at the shifting demographic of France’s most famous avenue: once the exclusive playground of the rich, it now welcomes a much more diverse crowd of tourists, banlieusards, and billionaires.
BIG, Bjarke Ingels Group
BIG CPH - Kløverbladsgade 56, 2500 Valby, Copenhagen, Denmark
BIG NYC - 45 Main Street, 9th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Bjarke Ingels, Jakob Sand
Gabrielle Nadeau, Xavier Delanoue, Architecture
Francesca Portesine, director, BIG Interiors
Pauline Lavie-Luong, senior designer, BIG Interiors
Alvaro Maestro Garcia, Amro Abdelsalam, Anis Souissi, Anna Juzak, Aurelie Frolet, Christian Lopez, Clementine Huck, Dimitrie Grigorescu, Emine Halefoglu, Enea Michelesio, Ethan Duffey, Étienne Duval, Filip Milovanovic, Gerhard Pfeiler, Hugo Yun Tong Soo, Jakob Lange, Joanna M. Lesna, José Carlos de Silva, Katarzyna Swiderska, Laurent de Carnière, Lucas Stein, Malgorzata Mutkowska, Miguel Rebelo, Monika Dauksaite, Paula Domka, Quentin Blasing, Raphael Ciriani, Sergi Sauras i Collado, Stefano Zugno, Taylor Fulton, Thomas Smith, Tomas Karl Ramstrand, Yesul Cho
Agla Sigridur Egilsdottir, Catalina Rivera, Emily Pickett, Francisco Javier Sarria Salazar, Hye-Min Cha, Janie Green, Lucian Racovitan, Marie Lancon, Philip Rufus Knauf, Rahul Girish, Ramona Montecillo, Terrence Chew, Thomas Sebastian Krall, Tracy Sodder
Architect of record:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group
SRA Architectes - 26 avenue de Paris, 92320 Châtillon, France
Phone: +33 (0)1 46 55 99 11
BIG NYC - 45 Main Street, 9th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
MEP: SETEC Bâtiment , www.batiment.setec.fr -
Structure: AR-C bureau d’études, Paris , www.ar-c.fr
Lighting designer: SNAIK, www.snaik.fr
Acoustic consultants: Theater Projects, theatreprojects.com
Movement consultants: Systematica
Cost consultants: Arch Specs: Cabinet Vanguard
Security consultants: CSD FACES
Furniture Shop Drawing Documentation
ATELIER 24 ARCHITECTES, Paris, email@example.com
NOX, EIFFAGE Metal, BALAS (architecture)
Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti, Salem Mostefaoui, Michel Florent, Matthieu Salvaing
Concrete Floor: GREPI SAS, France
Carpet: Pierre Frey, France
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Thermoformed and architectural Glass: Cricursa , Spain
Special mirrored textured Glass: Francaise du verre , France
Rope ceiling: Kvadrat Soft Cells A/S, Denmark
Store display custom-built installations
Fashion: Giro Agencement
Jewelry & Watches: Atelier des essences
Sunglasses & Gold Ring: Sice Previt
Sneakers: Schmit Industries
Interior ambient lighting: Artemide – Alphabet of light by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group