After over 15 years of construction, the La Samaritaine is ready to reopen its doors. The La Samaritaine was founded in 1870 and symbolized a modernizing Paris of department stores and Art Nouveau. Starting from a small shop, this Parisian icon is now a series of buildings occupying two urban blocks. 

In 2005, La Samaritaine was shut down due to building safety concerns. The redevelopment project was assigned to the world-renowned Japanese firm, SANAA. The project consisted of substantial remodeling of each building and a renovation of the urban island. Overall, the theme was to maintain the historical value while making a bold contemporary statement. 

Renovated by SANAA- La Samaritaine set to open its doors to the public this year - Sheet1
Garcia, S. (2020). La Samaritaine. [Photograph]. (arqfoto).

La Samaritaine’s History 

Baron Haussmann, a French official in the 19th century, is famous for his massive urban renewal of Paris streets. La Samaritaine evokes the spirit of Haussmann and the Second Empire, a time where department stores begin to emerge in Paris. Situated between the Louvre and Notre Dame, La Samaritaine became an opportunity for visitors to wander the aisles, try on clothes, and experience architecture at its finest. 

The department store stood as a monument of progress and economic growth for France and its people. It was revolutionary, fun, and created unforgettable memories. To Parisians, La Samaritaine was a glowing light full of excitement and adventure that stood out from the other department stores. The connection that La Samaritaine had with the developing spirit of Paris was unlike any other. 

Keeping this rich history alive, SANAA restores and re-imagines the Art Deco and Art Nouveau details of the building into a modern masterpiece.

Renovated by SANAA- La Samaritaine set to open its doors to the public this year - Sheet2
M, J. La Samaritaine Interior Before Renovation. [Photograph].

SANAA’s Contemporary Gesture

SANAA’s touch on La Samaritaine’s retail area blends contemporary architecture and Paris’ iconic Art Nouveau and Art Deco atmosphere. The most striking feature is the wavy glass facade on Rue Rivoli, a commercial street of fashionable brands in central Paris. Continuing the intention of the original architects, SANAA builds on the avant-garde spirit and research of glass previously done by Frantz Jourdain and Henri Sauvage. 

SANAA architects, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa describe their intervention as an arrangement with the building’s scale and the border of the street. The double skin glass facade reflects the embellishments of the surrounding buildings and brings movement that invites pedestrians and livens the urban block.  

The building’s envelope disrupts the traditional 19th-century context in light and organic manner. In turn, a dialogue forms between the inside and out, lessening the presence of the building behind it. 

The facade also connects the residential buildings, which are being refurbished by French architect Francois Brugel to provide social housing. SANAA’s work gives a new identity to the architecture of La Samaritaine, juxtaposing creation and preservation while focusing on environmental sustainability. 

Renovated by SANAA- La Samaritaine set to open its doors to the public this year - Sheet3
Garcia, S. (2020). SANAA’s Glass Facade. [Photograph]. (arqfoto).
The redeveloped retail area is spread amongst three floors along a core circulation axis connecting the series of buildings at both ends of the site. More than 600 brands from the LVMH group will be housed in La Samaritaine, taking up nearly half the site. All retail areas lead up to the impressive glass-roofed atrium inside one of Frantz Jourdain’s buildings. 

Along with the expansive retail area, the renovation project is made up of a 5-star hotel with 72 rooms, 96 social housing units, offices, and a nursery. While SANAA is responsible for the elegant facade, Brugel leads the building’s refurbishment. Another Parisian architect, Edouard Francois led the transformation of a nearby Sauvage building into a luxury Cheval Blanc hotel. 

The luxury hotel, which is an art deco palace, features a 30-meter long swimming pool, a green terrace around the atrium’s roof, and breathtaking views towards the Seine, the Centre Pompidou, and the Eiffel Tower. All efforts from SANAA, Jourdain, Sauvage, Brugel and Francois revolve around replacing the inflexible layout of the site with a design that encourages circulation and natural light. 

Another important component, according to LVMH, is diversity. Diversity of function, construction methods, and society are valuable to the store’s founders.

SANAA. (2020). Renovated Atrium. [Rendering]. (LVMH)

A Long Time Coming | La Samaritaine

Overall, the redevelopment of Paris’ icon, La Samaritaine, amplifies the presence of shopping and retail on Rue Rivoli by staying true to tradition and capitalizing on modernity. SANAA takes a bold and reflective approach to the building’s facade and gives new meaning to shopping in central Paris. 

With strong roots in retail and fashion, it’s critical that this project doesn’t overwhelm the traditions of Paris with too much of a contemporary turn and instead harmoniously balances both worlds. The department store is a staple in Paris and La Samaritaine is no exception. It is expected that the opening of La Samaritaine’s renovation will create over four thousand jobs in the neighborhood. 

With the revamped shopping space, stores are set up to welcome tens of thousands of visitors daily. It’s been a long time coming but SANAA’s involvement, along with other collaborating architects and designers, the La Samaritaine opens its doors this year and revives a historic building with class and refinement.

Garcia, S. (2020). La Samaritaine. [Photograph]. (arqfoto).

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Shatha Abushaikha is an environmental design student in Houston, TX with a passion for writing and research. Aside from being captured by architecture and its endless possibilities, she also enjoys watching anime and painting. Shatha hopes to spread inspiration and believes that people are what drive design.