Printemps, named after the season of Spring (in French), is a renowned department store in Paris, France founded in 1865. Throughout the building’s lifetime, several disastrous fires destroyed much of its original interior. Remaining is the 42-meter height great dome, that was restored and reinstalled in 1972. Since then, it is one of the most iconic art nouveau landmarks in the city of Paris.
As part of today’s reconstruction of Printemps, the architectural objective was to introduce a new atrium and circulation space to allow visitors to move through all levels. Given the limited space and the program to facilitate vertical movement, it was a challenge to conceive a new but an awe-inspiring space. While stretching vertically from the lower ground floor up to the 9th floor, the idea becomes of creating a spatial experience.
Cutting a 13-meter by 8-meter void on each floor level, it allowed the new vertical circulation and the implementation of the concept of a vertical dome, also called “veil”. The veil penetrates the heart of the building and appears to float in front of the vertical circulation. It is 25.5m high, 12.5m wide, and weighs 24 tons. In reminiscent and an homage to the store’s iconic stained glass domes, the veil’s sculpted curved surface is punctured with approximately 17,200 petal-like openings.
The patterns found in the original stained-glass is transposed into a repetitive pattern respecting the tradition of Art Nouveau motif found in nature. The effect appears like a burst of flowers through the many layers that form the veil. The geometry of the new atrium derived by connecting the four corners of the void with simple curves in plan and elevation. Each panel of the veil varies to give the overall concave shape, and a precise assembly allowed perfect control of joints.
On the opposite side, a one-way mirror wall conceals twelve newly installed escalators. The reflection in the one-way mirror wall creates the enthralling illusion of a complete elliptical geometry and a widened void. On each floor, visitors enter through a darkened vestibule leading to the escalators behind the one-way mirror and the void space is slowly revealed. The delicate form with a center layer of Dichroic glass changes colour depending on the angle of the viewer’s eye.
As visitors move floor to floor, the veil reveals a transformative quality, and the reflection simultaneously reacts to the ever-changing play of light and colour. The project displays ingenuity in architecture and engineering while achieving to negotiate the conditions and strict fire regulation. Acting as the backbone of the main building, it channels the energy to the different retail concepts on each floor and brings part of the building’s history to the present. The entire project was years in the planning, which reduced the construction time to only eight months allowing the stores to remain in operation.