24.2.2015

City of Paris approves MVRDV’s restructuring of 1970s superblock in Montparnasse

The City of Paris has given the green light to MVRDV’s ambitious plan for the restructuring of the mixed-use urban block Vandamme Nord at Gaîté-Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

The large building complex, built in the 1970s, comprises a shopping centre, offices, a public library, a hotel and an underground car park, all of which will be retrofitted so as to reintroduce the human scale to an urban environment largely characterized by wide boulevards and monolithic structures. In addition to the face-lift provided by a new facade, the accessibility and programmatic identity of each of these programs will be improved through a total internal reorganisation of the complex. The building’s restructuring also foresees extending the existing commercial spaces, creating new office space, a new kindergarden, an expanded library, a conference centre, as well as a number of social housing units.

Situated in close vicinity to Tour Montparnasse, the Vandamme mixed-use block, designed in the early 1970s by the French architect Pierre Dufau, was as one of the largest urban projects implemented in Paris at the time. As a design driven by the ideal of the automobile, it appeared as a triangular urban island surrounded by the traffic loaded Rue Mouchotte, Avenue du Maine and the rail tracks to Gare Montparnasse opposite the site. Dufau’s design is characterized by a clearly defined horizontal plinth, interrupted only by the verticality of the slender, 30-storey tower of the Hotel Pullman. Once a landmark of the era, over time the complex has failed to adapt to the changing needs of an urban society, resulting in an introverted and self-contained block which lacks urban connectivity, discourages pedestrian activity and neglects any sense of identity.

MVRDV’s proposal aims to reintroduce the lost human scale and bring back a sense of place within the Montparnasse district: breaking the solid, horizontal volume up into fragments and making the mixed-use program inside the plinth more extroverted allows each part of the program to distinguish itself through a unique identity. Each façade is opened up to light and access as much as possible, and replaced by a collection of ‘boxes’ inserted into the existing structural frame, which differ in size, program, activity, colour and materials. Each box accommodates a different part of the program while being flexible with regards to future demands. Based on the existing structural grid, the majority of boxes are suspended from the façade revealing the wide range of functions such as bars, restaurants, shops, a library, exterior gardens, living and working spaces. Density is increased carefully while respecting the architectural language of the original design and refreshing the run down details and organisation of the block.

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