In December 2019 Domusweb compiled a list of the 20 most awaited buildings of the year to come, and the new Le Monde Headquarters by Snøhetta and SRA Architectes was one of them. Since then, the home base of one of the largest publishing groups in France has made headlines mostly for unfortunate reasons. A scandal erupted, in particular, when a few dozen irregular workers employed in the construction site gather to occupy it, fully supported by the architects in their claims, for that matter. Following this somewhat animated genesis, the building has been completed and opened to the public at the end of 2020. And it turned out to be a slight disappointment.
The new Le Monde Headquarters is an efficient and well-engineered device in many ways. Its light metal framework ensures the best weight distribution. This is a crucial requirement for a building which aims at functioning as an “inhabited bridge”, but as its neighbors is suspended above the slab that covers rails departing from Gare d’Austerlitz. Furthermore, as no basement was allowed, all technical equipment has been sensibly arranged on the roof, also hosting 1,200 square meters of solar panels, that provide for 30% of the complex’s electrical needs.
And yet, the new Le Monde Headquarters is also a flawed architecture. It is modeled as a single, sculptural volume, highlighted by its continuous skin made by glass pixels of different opacity and texture. But it fails to become iconic. It rises from the ground with a clear, exhibited muscular effort, but it does so to dominate a “plaza” (this is its official name) whose spatial qualities and potential collective uses remain unclear for the time being. Squeezed between a busy boulevard and the railway, it might easily transform into a super-monitored bicycle parking for Le Monde’s employees.
Snøhetta is unable to repeat its success with the Opera House in Oslo, where all-in-all dull volumes where at least counterbalanced by the marvel of the permanently sunny and crowded public slope, overlooking the bay. Le Monde chooses to represent itself through an architecture of a relatively outdated grandeur, a glowing, slightly elusive blob that, all things considered, boils down to an optical delusion of little interest.
- Le Monde Headquarters
- Offices, auditorium, company restaurant, shops
- Paris, France
- Snøhetta and SRA Architectes
- 22,933 sqm