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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Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV is enthusiastic about the challenge: ‘This project is a fantastic chance to insert a little bit of human scale into a megalomaniacal 1970’s development in the very heart of Paris. We will bring order to the complex building, making it accessible from all sides and intensifying its use through a higher density of programs. On its façade the building will display all of the activities that are going on inside. For this we have developed a catalogue of façade-elements that are exchangeable, so that the entire ensemble can respond flexibly to changes in use over the coming years.’

In order to improve accessibility and increase permeability at ground level, additional entrances are created on Avenue du Maine and Rue Mouchotte. The shopping centre is extended; the offices, which are currently stretched over the entire width of the plinth, are replaced by a six -storey office block which includes accessible roof terraces creating an ‘address’ of sorts on Avenue du Maine. The public library Bibliothèque Vandamme is moved from its current underground location to the top of the plinth for improved daylight conditions and direct access to and from the station Gare Montparnasse. A community of 62 social housing units, and a kindergarden of 500 m², are added onto the plinth between the hotel tower and the office block Le Héron, while maintaining the required distance from the building’s neighbours for light and views. Rue Vercingétorix, the southern plot boundary, will be upgraded by opening up the current back face of the building. In order to relieve on-street parking spaces, 150 extra spaces for scooters are created within the six-storey underground car park.

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The project was commissioned by Unibail-Rodamco and has been conceived by MVRDV in collaboration with local architect SRA, engineers SCYNA4, installation consultant LAFI + INEX, cost consultant Vanguard, façade engineers RFR, acoustic consultant LASA and BATISS for fire safety.

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