This iconic "Grand Magasin", was originally started by the Cognacq-Jay family from very humble beginnings as a street merchant on the Pont-Neuf in a space left vacant by the demolition of a water pump named La Samaritaine, hence the later name of the business which started as "Au Petit Bénéfice". This "little benefice" ended up allowing the couple to buy the shop they were renting, then expand it by building the Art Nouveau metal structure designed by the Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain that has become the trademark look of the building. When they tried to expand again towards the Seine, the council didn't allow them to show the metal structure on the riverside and had to clad the building in stone to look more "Haussmannien"!. As history often does, the same type of problems has plagued the project of expansion and reconstruction this time on the Rivoli side of the site, as the new wave glass facade designed by the Japanese architecture studio Sanaa (Kosuzo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) has just been finally approved this week after a protracted legal battle that lasted 3 years, hence the timing of this articleT. he business has been closed since 2005 and we can now expect its reopening circa 2018 if everything goes according to plan with a budget of 500 million euros, deemed to be exceeded due to the scale and complexity of the project.
These two aerial photos show the extent of the renovation of the Art Nouveau buildings on the Seine side (bottom photo) and the entirely new building with the glass cladding on the Rue de Rivoli side. 74% of the existing facade will be conserved and restored, with the programming of the buildings completely rethought and designed to include offices, a child-care centre, 96 social housing apartments, a hotel on the river side, and a shopping mall on the lower levels. It is to be noted that the Cognacq-Jay family had a long history of philanthropy and social conscience, and were good Samaritans, maybe another clue to the business name... The project is privately financed by LVMH who bought the site in 2008 and is expected to create 4400 jobs during construction and a more permanent workforce of 2600 on completion. LVMH is a driving force on the Paris architectural renewal with this project, one of the biggest in Europe and also with the recently opened Fondation Louis Vuitton designed by Frank Gehry to much acclaim.
It is, in my opinion, the best building that Gehry has produced so far..
And to finish this article on a bit of humour, and to back-up the famous slogan that you can find anything at La Samaritaine, here is an old commercial that illustrates just that back in 1970. Love it!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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