The Musée de l’Homme is located in the prestigious Palais de Chaillot at place du Trocadéro, a Parisian hot spot for culture and tourism. The Palais de Chaillot, built for the universal exposition of 1937, is home to four cultural institutions: in the north-east wing (i.e. the Paris wing), the Cité de l’Architecture, and in the southwest wing (Passy wing), the Musée national de la Marine and the Musée de l’Homme. The two wings of the Palais de Chaillot frame the esplanade des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme, one of the capital’s most popular spots to soak in stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars. The Théâtre national de Chaillot is located below ground between the two wings.
A historic building
The Palais de Chaillot is the result of two overlapping architectural structures: two palatial pavilions designed for the universal expositions of 1878 and 1937. Both were commissioned with the same goal in mind: to create something spectacular.
In 1878, the Chaillot hill was incorporated into the perimeters of the universal exposition. The construction of a pavilion in the Moorish style of Spain was entrusted to the architect Gabriel Davioud, who engaged the services of the engineer Jules Bourdais. The building would only last 58 years, its exuberant style quickly falling out of fashion shortly after its completion. Preparations for the universal exposition of 1937 would soon be its undoing. Due to lack of time and money, Davioud’s building was only partially demolished, and soon camouflaged by a new pavilion entrusted to the winners of a building competition, Jacques Carlu, Léon Azéma and Louis-Hippolyte Boileau. The most visible part, the central rotunda with its belvederes, was removed, leaving an open space overlooking the Champ de Mars. While the general form of the building was retained, Carlu’s larger structure enveloped the wings, and called for enlarged entry and exit pavilions. As a result, Davioud’s glass-and-steel ceiling, which covers the main pavilion of the Passy wing, was preserved but hidden by the new structure.
This was a project of colossal proportions, carried out in 18 months, interrupted by strikes in 1936. The new building did not fail to impress by its sheer monumentality and regular features, and became a landmark of the Parisian cityscape.
This was the building to welcome Paul Rivet’s Musée de l’Homme in 1938, and this the history* behind the renovation project.
* The exterior structure of the building (everything exposed to the elements) was listed as a historic heritage site in 1984. Renovations on the roof and some windows, and notably Davioud’s glass-and-steel ceiling was overseen by the Direction générale des patrimoines of the ministry of Culture and Communication. In 1987, the Palais de Chaillot and its esplanade were partially listed as a historic monument.