With a view to housing the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration in 2007, the architectural firm, Construire (Patrick Bouchain and Loïc Julienne) were entrusted with its interior design. Wishing to respect the original work of Albert Laprade, the architects concentrated their energies on opening the building to the light, to the public and to a new type of conviviality.
© Emoc - Forum des images, 2010
According to the architects, it was important to regard the former palace of the colonies as an historic object that should be considered as a reference site, without anachronism, to proceed to what Patrick Bouchain called "an architectural upheaval": to ensure the transition from a palace dedicated to the colonies to a centre dedicated to the contribution of immigration to the history of France. “We build nothing and we open up.” Those were the watchwords.
The reception hall, long closed to the public, became a central forum (900m2), a veritable agora, directly opening onto the hall of honor (the entrance of the building containing the ticket counter, a bookshop and a café). The difference in level of the middle of the room is compensated by wood flooring that forms an immense expanse of marquetry with a double-bottom containing folded benches, each seating eight persons. When these benches are closed, the whole floor may be used for a variety of events; when they are open and covered by a large parasol, they form small alcoves giving the room a cozier look.
Above, the open bays of the galleries initially overlooking the forum were obstructed at the time of the Museum of African and Oceanian Arts (Musée des arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie - MAAO) to accommodate the exhibition rooms. They were reopened in 2007, allowing the space to recover its original luminosity.
On either side of the forum, two large halls (each 450m2) were transformed into polyvalent spaces for extending temporary exhibitions, or to be used as an auditorium for shows and concerts, or as reception rooms for groups and associations.
On each side of these two rooms are two vast galleries. The east gallery (350m2) has been a transformed into workshops and the west gallery (420m2) has become the Abdel Malek Sayad Mediatheque.
Large bay windows have also been opened on the rear facade of the building, letting in the light. The openings correspond moreover to the initial project of Albert Laprade, who envisaged the possibility of enlarging the building to house the Louvre’s naval museum.
The permanent exhibition Repères occupies all of the east and south galleries while the west wing is devoted to the museum’s temporary exhibitions (nearly 1,500m2 in all).
The rear facade was not only opened to the light with large bay windows, it has also been embellished with terraces and wooden staircases, somewhat like tree houses and temporary scaffolding, making it possible to open the back of the building.
For the inauguration of the worksite by the minister of culture on 2 October 2006, Patrick Bouchain presented the architectural project, which must have been particularly significant for him since Albert Laprade was the president of the jury that awarded him his degree in architecture.