American hard maple adds a touch of class to the Headquarters of the Banque Postale in Paris

22 June 2011

American hard maple adds a touch of class to the Headquarters of the Banque Postale in Paris

On 16th February, the Banque Postale moved into its new headquarters located in the heart of Paris, a site first bought by the French State in 1886 to build the headquarters of the French National Savings Bank (Caisse d’Epargne), the forerunner of the Banque Postal. In 2006, the challenge for the winners of the design competition, architects Chaix & Morel, was to merge together an eclectic set of buildings into a coherent whole.
This group of buildings in the heart of Paris date back to very different periods of architecture; the former mansion house of Choiseul-Praslin was built in 1732 and has become a carefully restored and prestigious reception venue; the buildings of the former National Savings Bank were built in 1886, and it is on the upper levels of this building which will house the new Banque Postal headquarters, whilst a postal sorting office will be set up on the ground floor and basement; and 1950 and 1970 for the remaining buildings and the wing along the rue de Sèvres where the main post office for that district of Paris is located, as well as further offices for the new headquarters. This group of office buildings represents a huge surface area of 23,600m² and a major investment of €73 million euros. The renovation project took over 30 months to complete, and was complex to manage: “When work started on site, the sorting office and the main post office were still running,” explains project architect Aurélie de Sèze, “so one of our main difficulties was organising the different phases of the jobsite without disrupting ongoing activities”.

A sensitive renovation project in a listed area
At the request of the contracting authority Poste Immo, the main entrance to the Banque Postal had to be located on the rue de Sèvres. Visitors cross the former courtyard of the Choiseul mansion and enter the side of the 70’s building which was entirely renovated inside and out. A new double-glazed ventilated facade of 2,500m² allowed the architects to maintain the original height of the building; if the building had been demolished and rebuilt, much of the flooring space would have been lost to comply with local planning regulations. The glass facing was screen printed to avoid mirror effects and recall the vertical lines of the surrounding buildings. The double-glazing also allows the building to obtain high environmental ratings (HQE) in terms of energy efficiency, creating a light and spacious entrance lobby to the building.
In the basement, the architects created a new 200 seat auditorium in what was previously the postal van parking area. All the acoustic panelling in the auditorium and the seats use American hard maple. The light and warmth of the hard maple works with the sense of light and space and gives the space a touch of class.
Hard maple panels also cover the sides of the main escalator behind the main reception desk. The upper ground floor leads to a raised courtyard and into the former headquarters of the national savings bank headquarters.
Across the ground floor of this impressive nineteenth century building is a finely restored indoor courtyard with a glass roof. One of the major difficulties of these renovation projects was to link together the various floor levels between the different buildings. However, even in the building dating back to the 1950’s, the architects worked to maintain good ceiling heights. To do this they avoided installing dropped ceilings to bring through ducts and cables and instead used radiant panels in the ceilings for heating. The top executive offices are all located on the top floor, which includes a restaurant/club and a board meeting room under the eaves.
Again, the architects turned to the hard maple which was used throughout the project, complementing and working with the bright light from the bay windows. “I appreciate hard maple a lot, because it is less prone to colour variation when exposed in full daylight” explains Philippe Chain, one of the practice’s founding partners. The use of both aluminium and solid wood mouldings gives an added elegance to the wood panelling, and because no air conditioning equipment was allowed on the roof, the architects installed a large wood-clad roof-top terrace which offers breathtaking views over Paris.