Nestled on the historic Avenue des Gobelins, is the new headquarters of Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, an insertion of art that looks like a shiny, bulbous, organic structure with elegant curves floating in the middle of a courtyard. Established in 2006, the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is a cultural center in Paris with a century-long heritage saturated in history with a museum devoted to cinema. 

Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the home for the new foundation is connected to a historic Beaux-Arts-style cinema building, the Gaumont Gobelins Theatre, elevating a façade on Avenues des Gobelins, in the 13th arrondissement decorated by a famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin in 1869.

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Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé research centre © Michel Denancé

With a complex site and critical restrains, the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is known as one of the best works by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW). The foundation is dedicated to celebrating the legacy of the pioneering French film company with a 70-seat screening room that is housed in a seven-story structure, two of which are underground, of 23,000 square feet along with offices, archives, a restoration laboratory, and an exhibition space

The forethought idea of the new foundation was to design an organic “creature” on the 9,000 square foot site that would reciprocate the functional and emblematic program requested by the foundation. The site widens as the structure arches away from the street and, confined between two mid-rise apartment buildings. The space nestled between the foundation and the rear façade of the adjacent buildings is occupied by small garden shrubs, flowers, and birch trees.

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Location of Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
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The facade of Avenues des Gobelins © Michel Denancé

The design was imagined on how a creature would adapt itself into the site that resulted in an organic glass vault clad in perforated aluminium panels that immediately strikes comparison to an armadillo. The volume of the structure is bulky at the center, where the five stories rise to the crest and taper dramatically towards the end rendering it nearly invisible from the street along with preserving the neighbour’s view and allowing access to daylight. The transparent structure behind the façade serves as the public access to the foundation that looks like a greenhouse offering views to the internal garden through the transparent wall of the ground floor of a second building in the central court that encases the design’s primary function. The building footprint thus gets reduced, creating a garden space to the rear of the site.

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The bulbous shape of the structure © Michel Denancé

The view of the structure captured from the street is that of a steel façade consisting of seven thousand curved aluminum panels. Nevertheless, the most transcendent space of the building is the fifth-floor research center that houses a parabolic arch with 32 exposed wood arches with spans ranging from 10 feet to 50 feet going upwards. The longest of the arches takes the shape of a banana as it takes a 4-inch increase in depth in mid-span as compared to the structure at the base. 

The vault shell comprising of double-curved glass creates a 100-foot long domed skylight by creating layers of wooden arches blended by embedded steel plates and bolts which are tied to steel beams that run along the perimeter of the building as the edge of the concrete shell was not enough to carry the load of the arches.

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Structure as seen through the glass facade of a second building © Michel Denancé
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Parabolic arch at the top of the structure © Michel Denancé

Renzo Piano particularly characterized two architectural viewpoints in this design. The first being the natural light relentless of being enclosed by buildings. The narrow internal courtyard serves as a means for daylight since the construction could not facilitate windows in the façade.

The large transparent domed roof was built to provide the upper two floors of the new building that houses the foundation’s offices and the research library with plenty of natural illumination. The three levels going up the ground floor inculcate the exhibition spaces and gallery, storage area for the foundation’s collection whose illumination is fulfilled by artificial lighting alone. 

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Layers of the parabolic dome structure © Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The second aspect was established by keeping the footprint of the building to a minimum thus creating a buffer zone that improved the neighbor’s access to daylight and air. The void presents as a surprise element as one enters the building, walks throughout the ground floor, and grasps the visual experience that is almost invisible from the street. Additionally, along with the glass dome on the upper floors, the interior of the building is an amalgamation of wood and steel that makes for a unique combination of design.

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The art as captured by the night © Michel Denancé
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Section through the building © Renzo Piano Building Workshop
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The screening room at the foundation © Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is a tribute to the legacy of Pathé’s President Jérôme Seydoux and Sophie Seydoux and celebrates the sole purpose of cinematography through the screening room that projects silent films, the storage space that showcases the equipment, photographs, posters, historical files, programs, scripts, etc. Recreating the bygones of cinema in a theatre with modern comforts, and a state-of-the-art projection room breathes a new life into the masterpieces of cinema. Displayed on two floors, the exhibition space commemorates the film cycle and allows visitors to experience a different era.


Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.