This Parisian shopping centre literally makes you shop until you drop – on the floor. Estefanía Armario Perea describes her journey through what was once Europe’s biggest retail centre and finds a quasi bench-less complex that is more than just a mall.
By Estefanía Armario Perea
It’s 12.10 pm. It stopped raining over Paris and the cloudy day was made even darker for my tour along the business area of La Défense. I was hopeful of some sign of life around that would turn the concrete structures that pass by my car window into gentler entities. Following the line of vehicles is the most secure option to reach the shopping mall if you are not part of the subway crowd. After passing under a few bridges, and a few minutes outside guessing which colour my destination was, I stopped the car in a fresh shiny green parking lot. The renovation of Les Quatre Temps, finished in 2008 by Cannon Design in association with, Paris-baded SRA Architectes, is divided into different colour areas: Raspberry, Kiwi, Blackcurrant and Mandarin. This spatial colour coded division is supposedly to make easier the challenge of having a walk without getting lost inside the biggest shopping mall in Europe. The fruit choice is justified for nothing more than the greediness spirit.
As I begun my tour, I decided to use “The Dome” as my starting point. As I reached the white escalators decorated with small purple lights on a bright and clean surface, I was thrilled by such a promising first impression. Ignoring the plans on the navigational boards on the walls like everyone else, I arrived to the first floor.
The program seems complete enough to provide people a whole day of leisure. The initial 1981 prosposal which had a Les Quatre Temps converted into a luxury spot, but this was nixed because it would have been out of reach of for the Parisian middle class. It would have been difficult to actívate the 130,000 m2 projected for the mall. And this change high-end mall to general mall with acts as a neighborhood meeting point, made it work. The fact that the mall provides direct internal connections between the office towers and the subway lines, is what brings it the real success. There is a constant flow of people like there is a city center that links the town. Les Quatre Temps becomes the core of la Défense.
Still following the signs of my initial destination, I had to go against where I’d prefer to go: to the left, was a condensed corridor with white ceilings; to the right, natural light from the glass roof gives you the sensation of breathing, though enclosed from the outside of this enclosed crowded labyrinth. On my way around, some people run carrying small suitcases. Around are few tourists, young men and women mostly in suits, not many families, and not many kids. An entrance on the way leaded me to the Arch of la Défense. Copying the ones around, I sat on the stairs to observed in what it seems the biggest street theatre in the city.
It feels calm. I can hear the clap of the shoes accentuate when they step on the different stone flooring of the renewed entrance. The gate stands proudly emphasized by the new glass and stainless steel structure but the new “lung”, the vertical garden from Patrick Blanc, is almost hidden. Probably to filter the air in the smoking area, or to cover an empty wall left. The truth is no one even noticed the presence of this half shown piece of art.
The new multicoloured LED lighting on the façade proclaims the presence of the mall. I wonder if this calling is really necessary in such an area where hardly anyone walks in the open air.
Back inside, I reached a point with natural light, a place with metallic traction cables in the air, and people ate sandwiches on the floor. I had arrived back at the Dome, the strong point on the renovation program. There were many fast-food restaurants. Just a few lucky ones could enjoy the only bench around while the rest took advantage of any other thing that looked like a seat, such as ramps or plant pots.
The fact of elevating three steps the circle under the dome supposes an obstacle for the walking paths but, even though, it automatically becomes an intimate area, a picnic space, a meeting place where people do not mind to lay on the floor as long as they have a ray of light away from the crowd. There are some printed panel son the top, with purple lighting and leaves theme. They try to make softer the space this way but it does not help at all. The same happens with the piano. They included in last renovation a small round stage on the top floor and there is a pianist playing live music every afternoon. For me, is a failed try to make cozy that space, the ambiance does not help.
Thinking about how to get out of there in case of emergency, a warm feeling lighted up while going all over the infinite raspberry corridors, well and warm lighted with a couple of resting areas.
Seeking to satisfy the appetite of a cosy space, La Clairière, the new green lung, almost does the trick. The nature inspiration is translated into beautiful interior trees and wood printed vinyl stickers on the walls. Most people prefer to take the side corridors just to avoid the catwalk that is a corridor with lined with seats looking at the ones seated on this “natural” island. This turns La Clairère to itself gaining importance because of an unconscious intimidation.
A renovation could be only about good design, or making something better by using the latest technology. It’s important to care about sensations of small details like few emergency exits indications to feel safe, few tables to feel comfortable or the lack of enough seats to feel fresh because, after all, buildings are made for people to live better.
Estefanía Armario Perea is an architect living in Nice, France.
All photos were taken by Estefanía Armario Perea.