Grand Palais, Paris

Le Grand Palais is not a common monument. Through its history it is a mobile, changeable and adaptable monument; all those adjectives are often hard to use when preservation is at stake.

The perception we have on this building is distorted by the division done in 1937- and that still exists - between the Grand Palais on avenue Alexandre III (Winston Churchill) and the Palais de la Découverte on avenue d’Antin (Franklin D. Roosvelt). Visitors seldom realise that this is the same monument.

As for specialists, they divide the monument into three parts according to which architect managed the project: the older building (grande nef and galleries) by Henri Deglane, the intermediate building (paddock and south and north galleries) by Louis Louvet and Palais d’Antin (Palais de la Découverte) by Albert Thomas.

Despite and in spite of those different architectural expressions, the unity is preserved by the building stress lines.

The modern movement will reject this building, symbol of an Academy unable to renew the architectural codes. This severe position is revised today. The rational between the shape and the function is especially spot on. The implementation of the material, and more particularly of steel, shows a structural “truth” and allow for transparency; both concepts close to the heart of modernity.

Depending on the opinion expressed, the Grand Palais can be seen as the culmination of a declining academy era or the promise of a new architecture, or even as a turn point between the 19th and the 20th centuries. The main point is to re-discover the existing tension between academic style and modernity which makes of the Grand Palais a flag of the history of architecture.

Its outside volume which is a genuine reflection of the interior space, has obviously been carefully studied and be corrected many times to give this true image of unity, to reconcile classical architecture rules with a project that architects who received the Rome award dreamt of for more than a century but not yet built: a Palais des Beaux Arts.

The Basilica and the Roman Baths are named as remote models, at least by their monumental size.

A monument to discover

All materials in use at the end of the 19th century (stone, bricks, steel, concrete, glass, stucco, marble, mosaic…etc.) have been used in this monument. To implement them all, Companions’ know-how was needed as well as engineer’s calculations.

Exterior ornaments have undergone a restoration phase managed by Alain Charles Perrot, Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques (Head architect for Historical Monuments), from 2005 until 2009 which restated the urban monumentality of the building.

Interior ornaments are still to be re-discovered. The three architects tried to make a difference on those elements by show casing three types of typical plastic expressions. Those elements are only remaining in some aisles that have undergone massive transformation during the 20th century, but are more numerous but hidden in the Palais de la Découverte.

But the most spectacular is still to be revealed.

Despite the nef glasswork restoration, a large part of the Grand Palais remains in the dark.

Large and small glasswork, glass brick flooring, small courtyards, wall window for indirect light most of those still exist hidden under aging museographies and are ready to be restored to give back to this monument its natural radiance.