Story at a glance:
- Renowned architectural practice Snøhetta and local partner SRA Architects designed the French media company Le Monde Group’s new headquarters.
- To build above the historic Gare d’Austerlitz train station, a structural steel arch connects two cantilevering volumes anchored on both sides of the site.
- The new headquarters features retail spaces, a public plaza, and open-concept office floors for Le Monde Group’s employees and journalists.
In the 13th arrondissement of Paris, two seven-story cantilevering volumes sit on either side of the historic Gare d’Austerlitz train station. Internationally renowned architectural practice Snøhetta and local partner SRA Architects were challenged to bridge the two together.
Completed in 2020, a concave, structural steel arch connects both sides of the new Le Monde Group Headquarters. A translucent, dynamic facade with more than 20,000 pixelated glass elements adds movement to the arch as it hovers over the railyard. For a nearly 300,000-square-foot building that weighs more than the Eiffel Tower, it was a highly demanding engineering task. However, the architects believed the connecting bridge was necessary to unify Le Monde Group’s many magazines and newspaper titles.
The new Le Monde Group Headquarters brings 1,600 employees and several publications under the same roof for the first time. Previously scattered around the city, Le Monde Group’s six newsrooms—most notably Le Monde, Courrier International, Télérama, La Vie, and HuffPost—now share a common home in Paris’s Rive Gauche district.
Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo Magazine’s headquarters in 2015, the project’s transparent and open design aims to create a dialogue between the media company and the public.
“The building is primarily about opening up in a time where fear and uncertainty pushes our societies to increase barriers and strengthen security enforcement. In this sense, the project invites us to reflect on how architecture can create spaces that can be both public and private, exterior and interior, transparent or opaque,” says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta.
In December 2020 the new Le Monde Group Headquarters was awarded the Grand Prix SIMI, a prestigious French real estate prize. The BREEAM Excellent building also received Etiquette COV A+ certification for its low VOC emission levels.
Situated above the historic Gare d’Austerlitz train station, the building’s 300-foot-wide structure is a response to the conditions and challenges of the site, says Therese Sanni, communications and editorial lead at Snøhetta.
“The first challenge was to construct a building where the entire technical system of the building would be cleverly incorporated into the structure of the building itself. The second challenge was that the site could only carry a specific amount of weight, and only on the two extremities of the site,” Sanni says.
Following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo Magazine’s headquarters, Snøhetta and SRA Architects were also challenged to promote unity, transparency, and accessibility through design.
Snøhetta and SRA Architects designed a sweeping steel arch that connects two seven-story cantilevering volumes on both sides of the railyard.
Three gestural “cuts” shape the building’s mass. “The ‘sky cut’ reveals the oblique surface of the solar-panel-clad roof; the ‘city cut’ pulls the building back from the along its street-facing facade; and the ‘ground cut’ carves out the underside of the bridging structure, enveloping the new public plaza together beneath its expansive arched form,” Sanni says.
Dynamic Glass Facade
The tens of thousands of pixelated glass elements were organized to give the facade a translucent appearance that shifts with the changing weather and light conditions. Each glass element ranges on an opacity scale from transparent to fully opaque to allow for optimal views and maximum daylight into the building.
The dynamic pattern forms a wave-like appearance that complements the building’s curves. But if you look from afar, the highly sophisticated pattern almost looks like text, referencing the printed letters of newspapers and magazines.
The shimmering glass facade ends at the arch’s concrete base, which is decorated with dotted LED lights. LEDs use up to 85% less energy than traditional bulbs, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to incandescent lights, according to The New York Times. For the new Le Monde Group Headquarters, the artistic LED display invites visitors into the public plaza nestled under the arch.
Open Public Plaza
The headquarters’ structural arch drapes over a broad public plaza with integrated vegetation. With panoramic cityscape views on each side, the plaza provides refuge from the bustling area and creates a dialogue between the media company and the city.
Underneath the warmly lit arch, passersby can explore new retail spaces or relax on one of the custom-designed concrete benches. The plaza also features more than 300 bicycle parking slots to encourage diverse transit modes and greener mobility alternatives.
“The materiality of the plaza is predominated by concrete with clear references to the urban context of the building. The concrete environment creates a sense of continuity and consistency, as if parts of the ground were gently peeled back and fused into the arching roof soaring above the plaza,” Sanni says. The arch’s cast in-situ concrete is also carefully hand-treated to create a textured finish.
The building’s exterior elements make their way inside the building with its custom wayfinding. Also designed by Snøhetta, the wayfinding is inspired by the glazed facade and adorned with classic typewriter typography to effortlessly guide visitors and staff through the building.
The new Le Monde Group Headquarters can be accessed from two entrances: a public entrance with food and retail services and a private entrance with a reception area for the Le Monde Group. The reception area appears like a white canvas framed by the gray-scaled concrete terrazzo flooring.
Two large amphitheater stairs in each entry lead up to the building’s third level, which provides an informal meeting space for staff and visitors. From the third to eighth floors, “the building offers high-quality, expansive open office spaces with a ceiling-integrated heating, ventilation, and lighting system assuring the building offers maximum layout flexibility,” Sanni says.
On the fifth and sixth floors, a double-spiraling staircase connects the dedicated office spaces for Le Monde newsgroup. By opening the central part of the two levels, the staircase aims to break down collaboration boundaries and tie the newsrooms together. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Seine and the surrounding city, providing a bright and spacious backdrop for Le Monde Group’s employees and journalists.
The open-concept office design also includes more than 100 private work areas and 40-plus meeting rooms. “The office interiors, developed in collaboration with Archimage, offer our newsrooms a warm and soothing atmosphere with secluded spaces that ensure privacy when needed,” says CEO of the Le Monde Group Louis Dreyfus.
On the building’s top level, an open-air terrace features ample vegetation and sweeping views of Paris.
Similar to many of Snøhetta’s other projects, Thorsen says the new Le Monde Group Headquarters uses hybrid design to serve the public and explore the interstices of architecture. With its translucent facade and expansive plaza, the project aims to create a dialogue between the company and the public.
“The project’s openness to its surroundings will make it an integral part of everyday life, both for the district’s inhabitants and the 13th arrondissement,” says Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. “At a time where information and dialogue are more essential than ever, my hope is that the 67-69 Avenue Pierre-Mendès-France becomes the heart of this exchange, promoting transparent and accessible information for all.”