Originally designed by Pierre Dufau in 1974, the Gaîté Montparnasse gets a serious revitalization by Winy Maas and his design team at MVRDV in order to create a new, contemporary, welcoming mixed-use space for everyone while reusing significant parts of the previous structure from the 1970s following circular economy principles.
The original structure included a hotel, shopping center, office space, and a library – and densified the area by adding social housing and a kindergarten.
“This piece of the city was like an island of ‘70s nostalgia — a tower with no visible entrance, and a plinth where you could get lost between the pedestrian slabs and automobile boulevards,” MVRDV founder Winy Maas explains.
“The first step in the design was a study to fragment the block and to make sustainable density — adding new programs such as homes and revealing hidden ones like the library. It created a kind of explosion of buildings that combines large and small scale, existing and new programs, where everything mixes and opens up to the city with lobbies and windows of varying scales like so many addresses.”
Winy Maas has decided to split using a tonal glazed cladding scheme and added exterior elements such as setbacks, small balconies, and overhangs, the redesigned structure came more into an agreement with the scale and visual character of its surrounds while using as much of its existing plinth as possible.
The further installation of large windows provides pedestrians with a clearer view of the reimagined slate of activities taking place inside.
Additionally, MVRDV has added density to the site through the incorporation of a new timber social housing block and kindergarten, while depositing the previously three-story office block into one seven-story tower and moving an existing subterranean library into a two-story above-ground space next to the Hotel Pullman.
The two-story shopping center that fills most of the site is now topped by multiple blocks, significantly densifying the area to make maximal use of this city center location.
Offices, previously spread over three stories over the top of the shopping center, are now condensed into a seven-story block on the east of the site, forming part of the building’s main façade.
The new design appears completely unrelated to its predecessor – even the floorplates are shaped differently to the 1970s design – and yet it carefully reuses this concrete structure wherever possible, stitching the old floor plates into the new plans.
For the addition of the housing block, a timber structure was used to reduce the carbon footprint of the new construction.
“The process of transforming an urban block on such a large scale becomes ever more precise, and yet is never finished”, adds Maas.
“To know which piece of concrete to keep and which to cut, how to occupy, redevelop, then reoccupy spaces, is a continuous conversation. The conclusion of the current transformation process is a milestone in the history of this urban block, to be sure, but it will continue as a DIY process in permanent evolution. This great project is not finished; it must continue.”
Project: Gaîte Montparnasse
Lead Architect: Winy Maas
Original Architect: Pierre Dufau (1974)
Photographers: Ossip van Duivenbode