The Musée de l’Homme enjoys an exceptional location in the Passy wing of the Palais de Chaillot. The architectural project made no changes to the external appearance, but behind the monumental facades of this historic building from 1937, everything is different. A look back on a functional, bright and reversible metamorphosis.
From the outside nothing changed, on the inside nothing stayed the same
The project: redesign the whole space to suit the needs of a laboratory-museum
The architectural project was entrusted to the winners of a competition (Nov. 2006): the architecture firms Brochet-Lajus-Pueyo and Atelier d’Architecture Emmanuel Nebout. The aim, on the one hand, was to refurbish all the installations, technical equipment, and safety features, and on the other hand, to redesign the space to accommodate: a museum and exhibition spaces, collections (more than 700,000 objects) and a research and teaching centre with offices, technical platforms, a library and classrooms for students. The OPPIC (French Operator of Heritage and Cultural Building Projects) was entrusted with managing the project.
A six-year commitment, with constraints and unforeseen issues
The architects worked inside the existing structures. The ground floor of the site was occupied by the Musée de la Marine which significantly limited the time work could be carried out, noise levels had to be kept to a minimum between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.
The long duration of the project can also be explained by structural issues. Work carried out in 2010 to clean the building and remove asbestos revealed that the floors and beams had poor load-bearing capacities, due to wide discrepancies in the types of concrete used to build the Palais de Chaillot in 1937. Back then, construction came to a halt several times, and many different companies were called upon to intervene. In light of current safety standards and because of weight issues related to the design of new spaces, all vertical supports and floors of the building’s central core had to be strengthened or replaced. This unforeseen issue had financial repercussions and resulted in programme changes. There were delays in the construction schedule, and the architectural project was partially modified. For example, the better part of the collections’ storage vaults was transferred from the 3rd floor to the garden level, and the classrooms were moved from the garden level to the mezzanine on the first floor of the main pavilion.
A significant but not irreversible initiative
The spaces were redesigned and arranged to be part of the framework designed by Jacques Carlu. Several spaces were added: intermediate levels added extra surface area (offices for research teams, classrooms and a temporary exhibition room) and a mezzanine between the two levels of the Galerie de l’Homme broke up the linearity of the two naves by hugging the curves of the building and created a more intimate exhibition space.
Bringing in natural light
The architects opened the museum out to its environment, bringing in natural light by enhancing existing windows and creating a new light well in the main pavilion by removing the flooring in the music hall on the first floor which was blocking the skylight that remained from Davioud’s palace. The Galerie de l’Homme is bathed in light from the large bay windows along the walls of the two curved naves of the Passy wing. White canvas screens mounted on double ceiling rails filter the light without blocking the view or distracting visitors. They offer protection to the collections on display and form a transparent, virtual and adjustable wall. In the spaces devoted to temporary exhibitions, sliding partitions can be used to screen the windows, darkening the space and providing extra hanging surface area.
The high windows to the rear of the main pavilion offer a panoramic view of the Eiffel Tower and Champ-de-Mars from the Café de l’Homme (ground floor level) and Café Lucy (Level 2).
“We created small openings in the building to make it brighter, we wanted to find a way to preserve the views without compromising the collections.” Olivier Brochet
The Atrium: creating an attractive and bustling centre
This new space in the main pavilion is representative of the architectural and strategic transformation in terms of how the spaces are arranged and how people move through them. Located above the lobby, it rises 16 meters, spanning two levels. It is the heart of the museum and leads to the temporary exhibition galleries, the Café Lucy overlooking the Seine, and the various areas involved in the museum’s outreach programme (Balcon des sciences, Jean Rouch auditorium, Centre de Ressources Germaine Tillion). The Atrium is accessible from the lobby by lifts or the double staircase that goes back to Carlu’s time.
Smooth visit circuits between various public spaces
The Atrium is the strategic crossroads that leads to the different public spaces of the museum. The flow of traffic has been entirely reworked to eliminate all deadends and problem areas. The Galerie de l’Homme unfolds in a continuous visit circuit above the two great overlapping naves of the Passy wing.
To find out more, download the refurbishment press kit