Les Halles, known as the “stomach of Paris” during its days as the French capital’s wholesale food market and more recently an un-loved 1970s transit hub and 1980s shopping mall, is poised for a makeover. Last month the Conseil de Paris approved plans for a glowing shell-like structure, designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, that will contain cultural facilities.
The canopy-like building will range from 13 feet in height around its edges to between 33 feet and 39 feet high at its rim. It will house cafés, a library, a health center, and a 350-seat auditorium, as well as workshops for artists, dancers, and musicians run by the government’s culture department. A 328-foot long arched entry will improve access to the existing subterranean complex and open onto a garden. To avoid placing too much stress on the underground structure, architects designed a double curved self-supporting assemblage made of a translucent glass composite.
While the canopy assumes an organic shape, Berger says that this was the product of many influences. “The form of a shell, plant, leopard, cloud, bird, wave—research shows that the geometry of these forms of life is the optimal of all forces and energy life has to deal with to grow and survive,” he observes, adding that “it is the rain, the people moving in the city, and the pressure of history” that inspired the design.
Berger and Anziutti’s scheme replaces above-ground elements of Forum des Halles, a 15-acre shopping complex that extends five levels below ground, that was built after the demolition of a 19th century iron-and-glass hall. Located near the church of Saint Eustache in Paris’s first arrondissement, the site has been an active marketplace since the Middle Ages. In recent years it has suffered a decline, prompting Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë to push for its renewal.
The 10-acre rectangular garden of Les Halles and the surrounding streets will be redesigned by David Mangin. The French architect and urban planner won an earlier competition to revamp Les Halles in 2004 but his proposal for a flat glass roof entrance to the existing underground complex was dropped because the mayor found its design too conservative not visually seductive and surprising. Mangin, though, remains the overall coordinator of the urban redevelopment. Construction is expected to begin in 2010 and finish by 2013.