The Musée de l’Homme takes place of pride in the passy wing of the palais de chaillot. The architectural project calls for no changes to the exterior appearance, but behind the monumental facades of this historic building from 1937, the changes are dramatic. A functional, luminous and reversible metamorphosis revisited.
On The Outside Nothing Changes, On The Inside Nothing Stays The Same
The mission: re-think an entire space to suit a laboratory museum
The architectural project was entrusted to the winners of a competition (Nov 2006): the architecture firm Brochet-Lajus-Pueyo and the Emmanuel Nebout architecture workshop. They were charged, on the one hand, with renovating all of the installations, technical equipment, and safety features, and on the other hand, with redesigning the space to make it suitable for: a museum and exhibition spaces, collections (more than 700,000 objects), a research and learning centre with offices, technical facilities, a library and classrooms for students. OPPIC (French Operator of Heritage and Cultural Building Projects) was entrusted with managing the project.
A six-year commitment, with hurdles and surprises
The architects worked inside existing structures, on a site occupied on the ground floor by the Musée de la Marine. This significantly limited working hours (6 am - 11 am), to keep noise levels to a minimum.
The long duration of the project can also be explained by structural hurdles. Measures taken in 2010 to cleanse the building and remove asbestos revealed weak floor and beam load capacity, 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 security norms currently in force, 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 consolidated, or even replaced. This had financial repercussions and resulted in programming changes. There were delays in the construction schedule, and the architectural project was partially modified. For example, the better part of reserve collections were transferred from the 3rd floor to garden level, and lecture rooms were moved from the garden level to the mezzanine of the first floor of the main pavilion.
A robust but not irreversible plan
Spaces have been redesigned and arranged to go with the flow of volumes created by Jacques Carlu. Several spaces were added: intermediate levels add extra surface area (offices for research teams, lecture and study rooms, temporary exhibition galleries) and a mezzanine between the two levels of the Galerie de l’Homme.
The latter breaks up the linearity of the two naves, blends in with the curves of the building, and creates a more intimate exhibition space.
Bringing in natural light
The architects have made the museum one with its environment, bringing in natural light by enhancing existing windows and creating a light well in the main pavilion by removing the flooring in the music hall on the first floor which was blocking Davioud’s glass-and-steel ceiling. The Galerie de l’Homme is bathed in light from the large 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 wall that is transparent, ethereal and adjustable. In the spaces reserved for temporary exhibitions, sliding partitions allow the windows to be screened, darkening the space and providing extra hanging surface area.
The high windows in 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 made minor changes in the building to breathe new life into it. We wanted to find a way to preserve perspectives without compromising the collections.”
The Atrium: the heart and soul of the building
This new space in the main pavilion is the hallmark of an architectural and strategic transformation, in terms of how spaces are arranged and how people move through them. Located above the welcome hall, it rises 16 meters, spanning two levels. This is the very heart of the museum, leading on to the temporary exhibition galleries, the Café Lucy with a view of the Seine, and the different parts of the museum’s educational programme (Balcon des sciences, Jean Rouch auditorium, Germaine Tillion Resource Centre). The Atrium is accessible by lifts or the double staircase going back to the days of Carlu.
Seamless transitions between different public spaces
The Atrium is the strategic crossroads that gives way to the different public spaces of the museum. The flow of traffic has been carefully studied to eliminate all dead-ends. The Galerie de l’Homme unfolds in a continuous band above the two great super-imposed naves of the Passy wing.
Visitors will fall into step with the natural sweep of the naves and the contrasting sweep of the mezzanine stairways.
WOOD: For the most part, areas open to the public are fitted with hardwood floors sourced in Europe (dark and light oak, ash).
GLASS: used for all railings, some partitions, and display cases.
STAINLESS STEEL: part of the floor in the Atrium (directly beneath the glass-and-steel ceiling) and stairways in permanent display areas.
STAFF: high-quality, sturdy material worked by hand for finishing ceilings.
Davioud’s Glass-And-Steel Ceiling
The glass-and-steel ceiling of the main pavilion is one of the major highlights from the former palais du Trocadéro of 1878. Protected as a historic monument, it was the object of a separate renovation project in terms of financing and project management. Work was carried out by Jean-François Lagneau and Lionel Dubois, chief architects of French historic monuments. It took seven months to completely restore the supporting framework and roofing, and replace glass panels.