Designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines, Paris’ new music venue La Seine Musicale has now opened to the public on Île Seguin. A new icon of the 21st century and a gateway to west Paris, the building had to be bold of course, something to rival the Eiffel Tower or the Centre Pompidou, yet it also had to meet contemporary environmental concerns and respond to how the public use and enjoy leisure space today.

The most striking feature of La Seine Musicale is the egg-shaped auditorium made of glass and a lattice of timber laminate from a woven spruce wood and accessorised with a dynamic 800 sq m sail of photovoltaic cells, which shields this core from direct sunlight. This agile and entirely solar-powered form is mounted on rails and follows the path of the sun at 15 minute intervals as it progresses, supplying the auditorium with energy.

An aerial view of La Seine Musicale. The Île Seguin masterplan was designed by Jean Nouvel. Photography: Philipe Guinard

Inside the auditorium – designed for non-amplified music – there is a warm and organic atmosphere, a contrast to the technology-inspired futuristic outer-shell. Designed to bring audiences closer to musicians, a gentle terrace of seating holds a capacity of 1,150 people. Small tubular pieces of wood, cardboard, and paper tubes were assembled and applied across the ceilings to improve acoustics. As well as this iconic auditorium, La Seine Musicale includes a modular concert hall seating 4,000–6,000, nearly a hectare of roof top garden, the Riffx recording and rehearsal studios as well as space for a resident orchestra.

One of the aims of the architects was to create a public building that would express permeability between interior to exterior space, allowing people to filter naturally through the whole site. This porous quality, rooted in traditional Japanese architecture, was defined through the Grand Lobby, a covered ‘street’ that progresses through the heart of La Seine Musicale and out the other side. This was a route planned by Jean Nouvel, when he set out his masterplan for the Île Seguin in 2010 – a complex task for the long and narrow 2.35 hectare site.

The auditorium was designed to be warm and organic, a contrast in shape and aesthetic to the exterior design of the auditorium. Photography: Nicolas Grosmond

Positioned on the route to Versailles, the slim slice of land has a fascinating history however, once owned by Louis XV who acquired it as a playground for his daughters and as a pit stop for weary aristocrats. Later sold to a laundry company, it then became state property after the French Revolution. After changing hands several times, Louis Renault claimed it for his first factory, opened in 1929 and demolished in 2005, leaving the island up for grabs. After a few false starts, one notably from François Pinault, the Ville de Boulogne-Billancourt initiated a plan for an island of culture that would be master planned by Nouvel.

Other sites on the island are slowly being populated by art galleries and cultural venues. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath – next scheduled to complete in 2021 is the S17 contemporary art gallery and S18 hotel designed by Baumschlager Eberle from developer Emerige.

RELATED TOPICS: JEAN NOUVEL, SHIGERU BAN, FRENCH ARCHITECTURE, CULTURAL ARCHITECTURE