PARIS — At last.
The Council of State, France’s supreme court for administrative justice, said on Friday that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton can start works on the pharaonic project again, marking the final decision in a legal saga that has gone through various twists and turns.
The court decided that the project “did not disregard” the rules of Paris’ local urban planning, and annulled prior judgments blocking the renovation.
The public rapporteur during the hearing had asked the Council of State “to allow Rue de Rivoli to write a new page in the history of Paris architecture.”
The rapporteur further said that the appeals court — which in January upheld an earlier court decision ordering LVMH to halt construction following legal action by residents on busy shopping hub Rue de Rivoli — had a restrictive reading of the laws. The rapporteur deemed it needed “to take into account a more open interpretation” of the text.
The sticking point had been about whether the new Samaritaine building with a facade of undulating glass, in lieu of the old structure, would fit into the surrounding urban landscape.
“It is a very beautiful decision — very clear and bright, but also rapid,” said Jean-Jacques Guiony, president of La Samaritaine and LVMH’s chief financial officer, during a press conference on Friday afternoon in Paris’ Petit Palais museum.
“I am very happy about this decision,” added Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “I am really thrilled to know that now we will finally be able to initiate this beautiful transformation.
“What this legal decision confirms is that it is necessary to continue protecting Paris and [keeping] the monuments, areas and emblematic sites from disappearing but at the same time to accept that our responsibility is also to produce the patrimony of the 21st century, and that the two are not opposing,” she continued. “There is not one golden age of Paris.”
Hidalgo said it is essential to give great architects the power to intervene on vital patrimony.
“That is also the strength of Paris,” she said.
Paris has long been a champion of La Samaritaine’s renovation. Following the appeals court ruling in January the department store together with the city, which delivered the construction permit in December 2012 prior to the Administrative Tribunal of Paris approving it in April 2014, took the matter to the Council of State.
At the time, La Samaritaine issued a statement expressing its “extreme surprise” at the appeal. In a separate statement also in early January, Hidalgo’s office noted that the court’s decision ran counter to the conclusions of the public rapporteur. It said, as well, that the same administrative appeals court in October 2014 allowed construction work on the site to resume, pending that final verdict issued in early January.
Japanese architecture firm SANAA has designed a new building in lieu of the old Samaritaine structure, which has been shuttered since 2005 because of safety concerns.
With an estimated cost of 450 million euros, or $508.6 million at current exchange, the structure would incorporate 280,000 square feet of retail space alongside a luxury Cheval Blanc hotel, 95 units of affordable housing, a day care center for 60 children and 215,000 square feet of offices.
LVMH estimates the project will create approximately 1,800 jobs in the three years of work, and that it will create 2,200 jobs directly and 2,200 indirectly once the renovation is finished at the end of 2018.
The Samaritaine department store — a stone’s throw from the Louvre museum — was founded in 1870, with LVMH acquiring a majority stake in 2000. The site, an agglomeration of buildings straddling several centuries and architectural styles, has presented multiple challenges and encountered numerous administrative snags.
The project had been green-lighted by authorities charged with maintaining historic monuments and ensuring any new constructions respect housing quality. But several parties, including the nonprofit organization Société pour la Protection de Paysages et de l’Esthétique de la France (or Society for the Protection of Landscape and Aesthetics of France), filed a motion saying the planned building was an eyesore and should not be allowed.
In the ruling in January, the court said that in its opinion, the Samaritaine project did not blend in with surrounding buildings in terms of architecture and materials, as stipulated by French town planning rules. Observers said the decision set a negative precedent against contemporary architecture projects in the French capital.
After the January decision, LVMH had to stop work immediately on the Rue de Rivoli section of the building, at present a large vacant lot, although it was allowed to continue construction on the portion of the complex facing the River Seine, which includes a landmarked Art Deco facade and signs.