The Poste du Louvre, a cultural asset of the French capital with more than 130 years of history, is being put to new use. The monumental structure, opened in 1888 in the heart of Paris as the central operations building for the state postal service, is one of the major projects taking place in the French capital to give its center a new face. The winner of an international architecture competition in 2012 was French architect and city planner Dominique Perrault. Under the theme of transformation and convergence, his lauded redesign concept unites the building’s design heritage with new orientation as a multifunctional urban hub. He combined the imposing historical framework made of cast iron and steel in the building’s interior with large glass façades and key accents of black-coated Escale 7×1 stainless steel mesh from GKD Group.
Architect Julien Guadet designed the Poste du Louvre as a compact block between three streets in the first arrondissement. With its light classical stone façade, it is one of the typical Haussmann-style buildings of Paris’s inner city. Inside, however, wide metal arches with a lattice structure lend the building an industrial character. It is constructed in the tradition of the iron supporting frameworks developed in the same period by Gustave Eiffel. Soon after the post building was opened, letter and parcel volumes grew significantly, which gave rise to numerous structural alterations and conversions over the years. As the only post office open day and night in all of France, the Poste du Louvre was as popular as it was symbolic. Increasing digitalization in the 21st century, however, saw a drop in the use of postal services, which prompted the Poste Group, the owner of the building, to initiate an extensive modernization and functional reorientation. Its prime location in the trendy shopping district of Les Halles, which boasts Europe’s largest underground metro station, Châtelet-les-Halles, destines the property for contemporary mixed use.
Horizontal layering of functions
Perrault’s modernization concept, which was selected from among 70 applicants in 2012, opened up the block to the district where it had previously only been accessible from one side. Today, five passages lead into the building from the surrounding streets and to the covered central courtyard, which spans an area of 1,400 square meters. Glass shed roofs and new glass façades made from large, curved glass windows leave the center awash with light. At the same time, Perrault transformed the originally monofunctional industrial block into a multifunctional urban building. He organized a total of 15 different usage types in horizontal layers and assigned each story its own function: The first floor houses 13 shops, a children’s daycare center, a police station, a new post office, co-working spaces, and a brasserie. The two stories above offer modern office spaces over three levels spanning 14,000 square meters with ample daylight, uninterrupted views outside, and natural ventilation. On the top floor is a five-star hotel with 82 rooms and suites, above which is a roof terrace with a restaurant. Forty-nine of the rooms open onto the interior space with offset loggias and balconies. The other rooms look out over the roofs and sights of the city. On the roof, the restaurant and rooftop bar provide a spectacular panorama of Paris. What’s more, a 500-square-meter garden and terrace area with seating provides guests with an inviting place to relax. In addition, 17 social housing units are spread throughout all the stories. Two parking levels in the basement round out the multifunctional usage concept.
Out of respect for the building’s architectural heritage, Perrault had ceiling paintings which were discovered during renovation of the vaulted brick ceilings carefully restored and preserved, along with all the metal supports. Some of these structures had been altered or completely covered up over the course of earlier renovations. Perrault had all of them laid bare and returned to their original condition with grid structure and capitals. Today, the restored arcades with their metal structure and up to 6.80-meter-high ceilings lend unique character to the stories. Glazed curtain façades on the first and second stories enclose the entire central courtyard and connect the traditional architecture harmoniously with the modern. As a visual bridge between his own architectural style and that of Guadet, Perrault chose the color black for all frames, arches, wood, and metal elements. The different textures of the building materials interact with the light, making the color appear different everywhere.
Black stainless steel mesh as decorative functional element
Pleasing environments in all areas, shaped by creating thermal, acoustic, and visual comfort, are closely linked with the ecological quality of the modernization. Perrault’s clever sustainability concept received five renowned environmental certifications. These were awarded for features such as the highly efficient photovoltaic modules on the green roof covered with specially selected plants and 70 trees, which helps the building meet some of the electricity and hot water requirements of the building. Perrault selected stainless steel mesh from GKD for this property – a building material that meets various sustainability criteria. This factor has moved Perrault to use GKD metal mesh in many other iconic buildings in the region, too. Alongside the French National Library, these notable projects include the Tours du Pont de Sèvres, the Pavillon Dufour in the Palace of Versailles, and the Paris Longchamp racetrack. For the redesign of the Post du Louvre, it was not only the decorative aspect that led Perrault to opt for the stainless steel mesh, but also its functional advantages. He used the material to create 100 ceiling-height sliding panels made of black-coated Escale 7×1 stainless steel mesh that serve as efficient solar protection for the two office floors. Yet they still allow natural daylight into the interior while affording an unencumbered view of the courtyard and the attractive green spaces. The same type of mesh is used as fall guard protection and visual screening for the 14 loggias and 16 balconies of the hotel that face onto the courtyard. On each of these outdoor seating areas, three panels form a protective skin at the sides and above which affords users a clear view while providing privacy. Carefully selected climbing plants contribute to this effect, gently growing over the mesh skin from above. On the green roof, Escale mesh shows off its decorative qualities as cladding for five large cubes. These structures house the technology for the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems as well as the water processing. The 235 panels of the black-coated stainless steel mesh give the cubes a stylish elegance that comes to the forefront in combination with the terrace greenery. The effect is subtly enhanced with delicate climbing plants that grow along the mesh from above.
In total, almost 1,900 square meters of the spiral mesh from GKD was used in the Poste du Louvre. Just like the lights integrated into the ceiling grids by designer Gaëlle Lauriot-Prévost, Perrault employed the technical weave as a harmonious complement to the historic industrial style, lending it a modern twist. Today, the Poste du Louvre is a revitalized jewel of architectural art. This imposing mass has been transformed into a new center for urban living in all its facets with a timeless, modern material mix of stone, glass and metal.