A dialogue between two eras

by Gabriella Lee on Jun 15, 2011 in Interiors
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Cohesiveness is key in RDAI’s transformation of the famous Lutétia swimming pool in Paris to the new Hermès flagship store. In uniting the elements of the historic building with contemporary architecture, architect Denis Montel has created a unique store that is still distinctly Hermès.

How did RDAI become involved in the project?
With a strong track record and a close relationship – RDAI has designed all the Hermès boutiques worldwide since 1976 – we were then able to take part in it.
What was the brief given by Hermès?
The brief Hermès gave to RDAI was to find a concept, which allowed the new services to live with the other métiers and find a rapport with them. Hermès did not ask us to create something spectacular; they asked us to translate the values which Hermès holds within their products into the space. Therefore, it was not to create a particular lifestyle, but more to offer opportunities for new exchanges between the different services.
How did you manage to achieve a unique spatial experience that at the same time reminds people of the Hermès brand?
We wanted an intimate, warm and welcoming space that speaks to the visitor.
The organic ash wood structures are natural and people can relate to them. Natural daylight also is a recurrent element in all of our work for Hermès. The Rive Gauche location already had three extensive skylights, which we treated to gently filter the light and view.
We realise many shops for Hermès. They are all different. However, they all follow the same general ‘boutique concept’. The Hermès concept is very open and not strict in its interpretation, and thus allows each project to express the identity of the mark, whilst at the same time expressing values relative to its location and culture.
What did the RDAI do in terms of preserving and maintaining the existing architecture?
The site was very basically renovated to accommodate retail activity. We dismantled the makeshift stairs and the various enclosures surrounding the swimming pool to reveal the original volume. The shape, height, and levels of the Hermès store are very similar to the historical volume.
All the mosaic was restored in areas where it had been removed and we also added and continued the mosaic into new areas. We considered the mosaic an important feature evoking the atmosphere of the pool and used it as extensively as possible, even in the fitting rooms and washrooms. It was a way of writing these spaces into the history of the swimming pool.
How did you create a touch of coherence in such a large space?
Hermès Rive Gauche is set within an existing building, one that is also listed with the Historic Buildings department. We gave ourselves a double design project – valorising the existing building fabric adding a contemporary architectural project. The goal was to make an individual and unique project – it is a dialogue between two expressions, between two eras.
In terms of the architecture and the necessary coherence, we first looked at the problem of the immense empty volume and approached the project from a volumetric angle to inhabit the space. The huts are “houses within a house”. Their supple and light form refers to nomadic architectures… they are both enveloping and transparent to allow perspective views and thus maintain the perception of the entirety of the space that welcomes them.
The store is very accessible; the open layout allows a fluid access to each family or zone of products or métiers. Each métier has its own place but is at the same time clearly part of the whole, Hermès store.