Lafayette Anticipations: Rem makes moves in the Marais

Lafayette Anticipations: Rem makes moves in the Marais

It’s something of a mantra among architects to say that projects are inevitably improved by limitations. But in the case of the Lafayette Anticipations, a dazzling new exhibition and performance space which opened on 12 March in Paris, it’s certainly a cliché come true.

Initially OMA, the Dutch practice led by Rem Koolhaas, had thought they’d simply void the space behind the 19th-century façade of 9 rue du Platre, and start again. ‘But then we had to keep the existing parts to the left and right, and as the room for manoeuvre became smaller, it became more exciting,’ says Koolhaas.

The result, a unique system of four moving floors which can move up and down within what used to be the building’s courtyard, brings a whole new meaning to the idea of what a flexible building might be. Indeed, in this case, as each floor is divided into two parts, 49 different configurations are possible.

The central ‘rack and pin’ system allows the floors to move and be adaptable to the work on show. Photography: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti

The surrounding U-shaped building is simplicity itself, lined in sheet aluminium, with balcony walls created from OMA-preferred aluminium grid. The ‘machine’ at its centre appears analogue in the extreme – a highly readable rack and pin system enabled the floors to move – and its clasped inside sturdy industrial-standard I-beams, those these are painted in the delicated mauve shade of fleur de lin. It’s perhaps is a subtle reminder that this new institution is actually part of Galeries Lafayette, the department store business whose fortune comes from fashion.

The purpose of this unlikely space is to serve artists – providing flexible conditions for performance and display as well as facilities for production on the lower ground floor. Its scale, says Koolhaas, (it offers 800 sq metres of exhibition space) is right for our times.

‘In the Nineties there was so much euphoria in Europe and we were planning grandiose projects accordingly, grand libraries and so on. Also the talents of artists have been stretched and stretched by an expanding art world and market. But things have changed and this project is realistic, not pessimistic. It was,’ he concludes, ‘very nice and right to do something small, small but infinitely flexible.’