Paris: this is what the ephemeral Grand Palais will look like

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The Grand Palais is preparing for a spectacular renovation that will last three years, from 2021, to host the events of the Olympic Games 2024.

"In a few weeks, we will announce the progress of the new Grand Palais project. The galleries and the nave will be ready to receive two Olympic Games disciplines, and probably more. For the entire renovation, we will remain on a budget of € 466 million, "said Chris Dercon, art historian, former director of the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam and the Tate Modern in London. At 61, he was chosen in January to lead the RMN-Grand Palais (Meeting of National Museums – Grand Palais).

Exclusively, he presents this project of ephemeral Grand Palais (GPE), a delocalised structure that will settle on the Champ-de-Mars (VII) for the duration of the works. Designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, this ephemeral Grand Palais will be built from the summer of 2020, for a start of operation in 2021, and a dismantling planned for the fall of 2024, after the Olympic Games which will also take place in part.

A future test of the Olympics. Wilmotte & Associates Architects
A future test of the Olympics. Wilmotte & Associates Architects

Placed under the responsibility of the dealer GL Events, the project still arouses strong opposition from local residents. On the other hand, the future of the Wall for Peace – which is currently on the chosen site – is being found by the City. A budget of € 40m for the construction, maintenance, management of the temporary site and its dismantling has been planned. "It will be fully covered by the financial repercussions of major events (Hermès jump, presentation Chanel, Fiac, Paris Photos …) to be held here. And it will have the participation of Paris 2024, "says Chris Dercon.

Will this future ephemeral Grand Palais be closer to a durable tent or a real construction?

Jean-Michel Wilmotte. We did not want to put a circus there. We wanted to make an ephemeral building that will mark the spirits. A symbolic footprint of the Grand Palais is present without us trying to make a "little Grand Palace". We will find the principle of vaults. We will have wood inside that will give the impression of being in a box. That's why we will not be in a tent.

Chris Dercon. We will also keep in the structure the equestrian statue of Marshal Joffre. This gives a classic dimension to the building.

Chris Dercon President of the RMN Grand Palais (left), and Jean-Michel Wilmotte, architect of the Grand Palais ephemere. LP / E.L.-M.
Chris Dercon President of the RMN Grand Palais (left), and Jean-Michel Wilmotte, architect of the Grand Palais ephemere. LP / E.L.-M.

How are we tackling the creation of an ephemeral structure of 10,000 m2 on the Champ-de-Mars which will have to impose four years in the landscape?

J.-M.W. The presence of the Eiffel Tower on one side and the Military School on the other is intimidating. We also needed a building that was easy to build on a tight budget for such a large area. Initially, the technique drew our building: the use of laminated wood which is put in a self-supporting tension. We will have a completely clear space, without any pillar inside. It's a technical feat. The outer coating will be a gray polycarbonate in transparency. The floor screed will be modular concrete, capable of accommodating trucks. The drawing of the building was guided to dialogue with the inner vault of the Eiffel Tower and the shape of the roof of the Ecole Militaire. Four glazed facades will allow you to see life inside the building.

Jean-Michel Wilmotte, architect of the Grand Palais ephemeral, wanted to find the curves of the Eiffel Tower and the roof of the Ecole Militaire. Wilmotte & Associates Architects
Jean-Michel Wilmotte, architect of the Grand Palais ephemeral, wanted to find the curves of the Eiffel Tower and the roof of the Ecole Militaire. Wilmotte & Associates Architects

CD. The strongest constraint was to stay below the Military School, which rises to 35 meters while our project is 20 meters high. The other constraint is that of residents. I am very sensitive to it. Given the acoustic treatment that we are going to achieve and the possibility for trucks to enter the building for the delivery of equipment, we should address the concerns.

The residents will undoubtedly denounce an invasion of the site?

CD. I thank everyone for allowing us to do our building here. It was the only one possible. Now you have to talk. But that residents are reassured. It's just an occupancy of 4.6% of land. We are not going to pack the whole Champ-de-Mars. The walk will be respected. This project by Jean-Michel Wilmotte responds to what was done in the nineteenth century for universal exhibitions, including that of 1900, which already proposed three ephemeral monuments in addition to the Eiffel Tower.

J.-M.W. The building will be 150 m long and 32 m wide. On the transversal side, along the Military School, it will be 130 meters long and 50 meters wide.

Modular structure, you also plan to be able to enlarge it for the Fiac or Paris photos …

CD. This will be a temporary extension of 4,650 m2 on two floors. But for one month a year only. It will be 75 m longer to Risler Lane. Even with this extension for Fiac and Paris Photo, we will arrive at 6.5% of site occupancy. The Champ-de-Mars will be very largely preserved and respected.

The temporary building will host the events of the Grand Palais during its renovation. Wilmotte & Associates Architects
The temporary building will host the events of the Grand Palais during its renovation. Wilmotte & Associates Architects

How did you take into account the criticism of local residents? There could be nuisances including machinery for heating or air conditioning …

CD. We will create a technical pavilion for heating and air conditioning, which we will bury under under vegetation, Avenue de la Bourdonnais, which will be 1,225 m2. We do everything so that there is an acoustic protection with an invisibility. We are studying this question with the technicians.

And after 2024, this structure can be reused in another form?

J.-M.W. Yes, each element can be moved and reused … In Paris or elsewhere in the world. It may be interesting to have a piece of the ephemeral Grand Palais in Japan or Senegal.



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