La Samaritaine Department Store in Paris Is Gloriously Restored

Because the greenest building is the one already standing.


Pierre-Olivier Deschamps

"The greenest building is the one already standing" is a Treehugger mantra, and we often refer to a graph made by the World Green Building Council that lays out the greenest strategies for building, starting with "build nothing-explore alternatives" with the second-best strategy being "build Less-maximize use of existing assets." And existing assets have never been maximized and less has never been more than in the renovation and reinvention of La Samaritaine department store in Paris.

larger view of the art nouveau facade
Rue de la Monnai facade. Pierre-Olivier Deschamps, Agence VU

The art nouveau restoration portion of the project and a controversial new contemporary wing were completed by Pritzker prize-winning Japanese firm SANAA at a reported cost of $850 million.

Sanaa addition
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps, Agence VU

Opponents of the contemporary portion worried that the new wavy glass skin designed by SANAA was going to look like a shower curtain, and they had a point. Work was stopped in 2014 by a judge because of arguments that the new buildings wouldn't fit in with the 18th and 19th-century buildings in the area, noting "the issue is of the place of contemporary architecture in historic centres." After a compromise, the work restarted later that year.

old and the new meeting
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps

The buildings that were replaced were not particularly interesting and were in very rough shape. And the question of mixing old and new has vexed the heritage world for decades, the fight between say, a new wavy shower curtain and a thin veneer of fake historicism. There may well have been a big fight back in 1930 when they added that modern Art Deco addition to the existing Art Nouveau building, but there are no tweets on the subject.

Stairway and skylight
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps Agency Vu

The restoration of the art nouveau atrium and skylight, with its structure designed by Eiffel, was so lavishly and carefully done. The floors overlooking the atrium are filled with luxury goods from the LVMH portfolio of 75 brands including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Dom Pérignon.

But before anyone gets out the guillotines and pitchforks, it should be noted that the project also includes a daycare center, nursery, and 96 social housing units designed by Francois Brugel Architectes Associes.

looking up into Samaritaine skylight
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A look up into the restored skylight.

restoring a sign
Vladimir Vasilev for La Samaritaine

While the contents of the store might not be Treehugger correct, the careful and loving restoration certainly is. The attention to detail is extraordinary. The heritage restoration work was supervised by Lagneau Architectes, who have been doing this since 1905.

detail of restoration
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps Agence Vu

An example of the amazing details.

champagne on the wall

There are restaurants, bars, and walls of champagne everywhere, but not just to fatten the rich for later eating; they are at all price ranges to attract Parisians back to the store. According to Eléonore de Boysson of DFS, which runs the retail for LVMH, "It’s important for us that Parisians come back to this place that is so special to them, that they first come out of curiosity and return because they find the experience amazing."

Hotel Cheval Blanc

Hotel Cheval Blanc
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps Agence Vu

The Art Deco magazin (store) designed by Henri Sauvage has been separated from the store and is being turned into a luxury hotel that is opening in the fall. I have such fond memories of this building. On my first visit to Paris as a starving architecture student I stayed in a hostel a few blocks away, but every morning I would go to the roof for a café creme and a croissant in an outdoor round panoramic café with a 1920s view of Paris painted on a ring around the terrace. You can just see the edge of the ring at the top of the photo.

I asked if it would be reopening but was informed by Séverine Chabaud of Société Foncière La Samaritaine:

"The roof part is part now of the Hotel Cheval Blanc Paris and no longer accessible to the public or under certain conditions. It’s a pity of course but a new terrace is accessible at the 7th floor with the 2 restaurants : the French brasserie and the Langosteria (Italian). And the view is still stunning!"
detail of top of art deco building
Pierre-Olivier Deschamps

The renovation is designed by Treehugger favorite Edouard François, known for his approach to living green façades. François believes that plants should be part of every building, telling Treehugger years ago that "only in this way can he be happy."

He describes how he is using living plants in the hotel: "To restore this iconic building and adapt it to the standards of a demanding clientele, the existing bow windows with subtle frames will become winter gardens on the Seine. They will hide the rooms behind screens of greenery and create a new Parisian green facade on the Seine."

There are no images of the interior of the hotel yet—there are some views of it under construction on the Edouard François website.

View of deco and nouveau
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This is sort of one of those "why is this on Treehugger?" moments, on a site where we don't usually promote excess and over-the-top consumerism. But It is hard to imagine a better collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in one place or to imagine a higher quality renovation, restoration, and addition. In an era where everything gets knocked down, when department stores are reeling from the pandemic and online shopping, when we are not supposed to be hopping on planes and flying to Paris, it is a glorious anachronism.