PARIS — Visitors to Paris have another destination to add to their schedules — a brand new arts center in the heart of the Marais. Lafayette Anticipations, the art foundation backed by Groupe Galeries Lafayette opens to the public on Saturday. The centerpiece of a broader rejuvenation of the historic neighborhood, it is housed in a 19th-century industrial space remade by Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect known for upending conventions.
“This architectural endeavor bridges the tension between pragmatic flexibility and conservation requirements, in a place where preservation regulations are extremely strict,” said Guillaume Houzé, the group’s director of image and patronage who managed the project.
Spread over nearly 24,000 square feet, Koolhaas and his architectural firm OMA inserted a series of movable floors into the center of the building, allowing the space to be rearranged into a number of different configurations.
“It’s a project that is both significant and modest in a certain manner, but that’s what also makes it important, because it’s an environment in which people feel comfortable, it’s not authoritative,” Houzé added, speaking in an office on the building’s top floor. Aluminum and wood furniture in the space was built on site, in a workshop that sits in the basement, just above the mechanics of the hydraulic elevation system.
The ground floor has a café, operated by Wild & The Moon, known for mixed juices and locally sourced plant-based foods. The entire street level will remain free and open to the public, intended as a place for social exchanges. It also includes a gift store, which sells notebooks, pens, pottery and jewelry, ranging from gold and diamond rings by Kim Mee Hye, who used to sell her pieces in the recently closed multibrand store Colette, to the ephemeral jewelry by the Mediterranean Spanish brand Keef Palas, including earrings made of magnolia leaves and olive branches.
Exhibits will be held on the upper floors; the foundation is aiming for 500,000 visitors a year.
The space was empty several weeks ago when French first lady Brigitte Macron paid a visit, except for the top floor office space. Eyeing a bulletin board, she spotted a reference to a movement for gender neutral language; a debate ensued.
“She wanted to meet the team and it was very nice that she stayed for nearly an hour,” Houzé said.
The site is one of a series of urban renewal projects in Paris. Japanese architect Tadao Ando is refurbishing the Bourse de Commerce de Paris in the center of the city, which will house contemporary art by the Pinault family. Along the Seine River, the former department store La Samaritaine, owned by luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, will become a retail center, a luxury Cheval Blanc hotel, office space and affordable housing.
Further downstream, renovation of the Grand Palais is being sponsored by Chanel, to the tune of 25 million euros; works are scheduled to finish in 2024. Part of the project entails opening up passage ways so that pedestrians can walk through the sprawling complex.
Galeries Lafayette, which also owns the nearby department store BHV Paris, has further ambitions for the neighborhood surrounding the foundation. This includes the country’s first Eataly location — the group will operate Italian food outlets under franchise agreement in France — as well as pedestrian access to the various sites through a series of courtyards.