French court blocks renovation of iconic Paris building

5th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

A French appeals court on Monday blocked the renovation of the iconic former Parisian department store La Samaritaine, saying its modern makeover would clash with its historic surroundings.

Perched on the right bank of the Seine, the hulking store occupies some of the choicest Parisian real estate but was shut down in 2005 when it ran afoul of health and safety regulations.

Efforts to redevelop the site have hit several snags, notably over plans by Japanese architecture firm Sanaa to build a massive undulating glass facade over a part of the building, which is now owned by luxury brands company LVMH.

But critics say the design will be an eyesore in the centre of the French capital.

LVMH, which owns brands such as Louis Vuitton, plans to turn the complex, including the main building and three adjacent properties, into a five-star hotel, offices, shops and flats at a cost of some 460 million euros ($630 million).

However, heritage groups including the Society for the Protection of Landscapes and Aesthetics as well as SOS Paris filed a complaint over the design plans.

In May 2014 a court cancelled one of the renovation permits, saying the glass wall "clashed" with the look of the other buildings in the area.

The administrative appeals court on Monday upheld the cancellation of the permit, saying the new building "did not comply with the obligation to fit the planned construction into its urban surroundings."

A spokesman for LVMH told AFP they would appeal the decision at the French supreme administrative court, known as the State Council.

La Samaritaine, a Paris landmark, had its golden age during the 1930s at the height of the Art Deco era but went into decline for the last 30 years of its existence.

It had its start in 1870, when Ernest Cognacq, a hawker from the west coast of France, opened a small "novelties" shop on the banks of the Seine.

He called it La Samaritaine (the Samaritan woman) after a pump on the nearby Pont Neuf whose facade depicted Christ and the woman of Samaria at Jacob's Well, as recounted in the Gospel according to St John.

He would later buy up adjoining buildings until the store covered 70,000 square metres (750,000 square feet).

However the business piled up losses and in 2001 was bought by LVMH, owned by France's richest man Bernard Arnault.

He was forced to shut it down after a police report said the whole art deco structure needed to be urgently renovated to replace antiquated electrical circuits, malfunctioning smoke extraction systems and flammable wooden flooring.

The renovated Samaritaine was supposed to have opened in 2013 but this has been pushed back to at least 2016.

© 2015 AFP

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