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La Samaritaine Project Hits Roadblock

The Paris administrative court has cancelled a key portion of the construction permit delivered by Paris City Hall.

La Samaritaine

PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has hit a major roadblock in its plans to renovate the landmark Paris department store La Samaritaine.

This story first appeared in the May 14, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In a decision that left the luxury conglomerate and city officials reeling, the Paris administrative court canceled a portion of the construction permit delivered by Paris City Hall covering the Rue de Rivoli, one of the city’s main shopping hubs.

This means LVMH must halt work immediately on this section of the building, which is in the process of being demolished, though it is allowed to continue work on the portion of the complex facing the River Seine, which includes a landmarked Art Deco facade and signs.

The ruling was in response to a motion filed by the Société pour la Protection des Paysages et de l’Esthétique de la France, or Society for the Protection of Landscape and Aesthetics of France in English, which is opposed to the project. According to its Web site, the nonprofit organization was founded in 1901.

La Samaritaine and Paris City Hall said they would appeal.

“La Samaritaine wishes to express its total surprise upon reading a ruling based solely on aesthetic considerations, and therefore entirely subjective, regarding the work of one of the world’s most celebrated architects, winner of a Pritzker Prize, architecture’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize,” it said.

“This ruling creates a worrying precedent for any even remotely innovating renovation project in Paris. This interpretation of town planning rules is incompatible with a modern vision of the city, and would not have allowed some of the most symbolic buildings of our capital to see the light of day,” the company added.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s office said it fully backed the plans developed by the Japanese architecture firm SANAA for a building with an ultramodern facade of undulating glass, in lieu of the old Samaritaine structure, which has been shuttered since 2005 because of safety concerns.

“At a time when European capitals are engaging in urban modernizations that respect their heritage, this decision is liable to deprive Paris of the position it must defend on the international architectural scene,” City Hall said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office noted the project, which the court described as aesthetically “dissonant,” had been green-lighted by every relevant authority, including the “architecte des Bâtiments de France,” which is in charge of maintaining historic monuments and ensuring any new constructions respect housing quality.

City Hall will ask for the application of the court decision to be suspended, so that work can continue while the appeal is being considered, she said.

The Samaritaine department store — a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum — was founded in 1870, with LVMH acquiring a majority stake in 2000. With an estimated cost of 500 million euros, or $688 million at current exchange, the multiuse project is expected to create some 2,000 jobs.

The project is set to incorporate 280,000 square feet of retail space alongside a luxurious Cheval Blanc hotel; 95 units of affordable housing; a day-care center for 60 children, and 215,000 square feet of offices.
The complex site, an agglomeration of buildings straddling several centuries and architectural styles, has presented multiple challenges and encountered numerous administrative snags.