A DEPARTMENT STORE IN THE CENTRE OF ANNECY
The Galeries Lafayette department store building in Annecy is one of those unexpected, almost insolent pieces of architectural heritage within an otherwise relatively homogenous town, notable for its unique history.
Designed in the 1970s, the building was erected on the site with no awareness of its surroundings, heedless to context, form, alignment or density.
And this is perhaps its force: it boldly made its mark on the site, as it has also made its mark on collective memory, so much so that it now features in the list of remarkable buildings of the 20th century.
The project was ambitious for its time. Around the Galeries Lafayette building wound a perfectly circular double ring of car parking, precisely tangential with the four corners of the department store’s square volume at its centre. These two levels of parking were raised up, sitting on regularly spaced piles and providing pedestrian access to the recessed shopfront below. Pedestrians thereby came into the store beneath the car park, with no attempt at making the entrance inviting or user-friendly.
In fact, the original design catered for arrival by car; shoppers parked in one of the parking rings, which gave direct access to the shop floors.
The relationship with the surrounding urban space was also uncertain; the circular forms of the car parks, positioned at the centre of the site, were set back from the streets and avoided any relationship with the buildings that faced them. This round, voluminous, multi-storey car park was undoubtedly the first element one saw on approach, out of proportion and seeking no dialogue with the surrounding urban environment.
Despite the lack of ‘politesse’ with regards the context, the result was surprising and even endearing: a sort of symbol of an era, with a certain beauty in spite of its assertive and radical isolation.
And indeed, over the years it has become part of the city’s heritage, to which the people of Annecy have grown attached. It constitutes a powerful landmark in the city, and is seen as a classic piece of 1970s and ‘80s heritage that, as such, must be preserved.
THE CHALLENGES OF TRANSFORMATION
We started working with Citynove on the major restructuring and extension of the Galeries Lafayette department store in 2011, to create an alluring destination in its own right; “expressing the new values of tomorrow’s commerce”, in the words of Citynove.
In all aspects, the project targets local, emotive and aesthetic, with strong emphasis on services, while integrating environmental, cultural and social factors.
The opportunity for a large extension was unique, allowing the preservation of its now historic qualities while also giving it new youth, an innovative architecture, just as outspoken but certainly more contextual.
Initially on the edge of the city, the site had progressively been absorbed by an expanding city centre. The necessity for densification was clear in the quest for the contextuality and urban quality that it lacked. Most importantly, the project needed to be transformed into a ‘city-centre’ project.
In response to these factors, we have largely reorganised some of the existing areas in order to modernise them, but we have also created a large extension to accommodate around 40 shops and restaurants, thus expanding the floor space and range offered by Galeries Lafayette.
And environmental :
The project was truly green from the outset in our desire to preserve all of the existing building. Other than a few square metres of partitions, there have been virtually no demolitions.
As a consequence, the project was able to benefit from the renovation and extension to achieve BREEAM Excellent certification.
Porous surfaces on the site have been considerably extended, rainwater is now gathered and reused for watering the green roofs, we have planted numerous external areas, and extensive work on natural light was conducted in all the internal spaces in order to minimise use of artificial light.
Every possible opportunity was taken to ensure the building’s robust and uncommon environmental credentials.
SATELLITES HOUSING NEW STORES
Faced with these very pronounced circular forms, we did not want to dismiss them, but rather to embrace them by working on extended volumes that were also circular. The final perception is not at all one of an existing 1970s building with an unrelated extension, but rather one of a unified architecture, completely redesigned and contemporary.
The existing car park, in the form of a two-storey ring resting on piles, has been preserved; its curve unifies the entire project, and it was a natural decision to make use of the space beneath it to install the Nouvelles Galeries entrance mall, as well as most of the public spaces and facilities.
From this unifying space, several circular volumes slip in above or beneath the existing volumes of the circular car parks; they are like delicate, crystalline satellites that have reproduced in contact with the rings.
Variable in diameter, they are mostly arranged along the edges of the site in contact with the streets, making the project more visible and more welcoming; it is no longer the rings of the car park, tucked back at the centre of the site, that are initially visible, but instead the windows, entrances and café terraces that attract and lure in the public.
Five of these satellites have been built around the existing volumes, along the west, south and south-east facades. They now form a constellation of circular volumes, in which you can no longer tell which are old and which are new; the project takes on a whole new magnitude and gives the impression of absolute modernity. This was our aim: to blend the new with the existing without looking for stylistic distinction or hierarchy; to make a whole, iconic while at the same time human and welcoming.
On the west side the satellites are grouped in pairs, superimposed and slightly offset in plan. This offset is visually reinforced by the continuity of the slab edges between the two. The upper volume always cantilevers over the lower to accentuate an impression of lightness and movement.
The offset of the upper and lower satellites also enables the creation of accessible roof terraces, while the spaces below benefit from solar shading.
Between each cluster of satellites is a public entrance into the mall, enhanced by the curves that draw together in conch-like arrangements that welcome the public. These form little public squares, vibrant, light-filled, planted spaces, positioned at three cardinal points: due west, due south and due east; indicating the main axes of the central volume of Galeries Lafayette.
POROUS & PLEATED FACADES
The outer facades of these great circular forms are fully glazed.
Like glass pleats, they echo the concrete pleating that encloses the large rings of the car parks, whose openwork facade structure is formed of curved sections of precast concrete installed vertically around the rings. The effect is almost kinetic, distinguished by a regular vertical rhythm that gives an elegance and dynamism to the curving forms.
In turn, we too have created a vertical rhythm similar to that of the existing car park facades, echoing their almost kinetic dynamic.
Glass was chosen to ensure transparency and light; inset between the upper and lower concrete slabs, the glazed elements create a chiselled sequence of folds, alternately transparent and opaque. The envelopes encasing the large glazing panels are in grey anodised aluminium, a shade that is both neutral and luminous, creating a subtle play of reflections.
The display windows to the rear can play on these folds, dramatizing their effects, increasing their visibility.
Avoiding rear or blank facades was another objective, instead creating animated, vibrant facades in which passers-by glimpse the stores and their internal activity.
Nouvelles Galeries is always luminous, day and night, with its internal animation on public display as another means of embracing the neighbourhood and nurturing contact with the people of Annecy.
MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE
INTERIOR DESIGN :
STUDIO DAVID THULSTRUP (DK)
DESIGN TEAM :
KHEPHREN: structural engineers
T/E/S/S: facades engineers
BARBANEL: M & E engineers
VPEAS: quantity surveyors