An office in Paris’s 8th arrondissement—home to the Champs-Élysées and the official residence of the French president—could make a powerful statement. So it’s no surprise that businesses covet this location. But the neighborhood also poses challenges of adapting stately Hausmannian buildings while preserving the quintessentially French architecture, all the while undoing the work of previous renovations throughout the years. Inside one such treasure on Rue La Boétie, STUDIOS Architecture took on that challenge to convert the former headquarters of telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent into a modern headquarters for global pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which acquired Genzyme in 2011 and continues to grow.
Understanding client and context
Sanofi’s highly symbolic move into the heart of Paris—from previous headquarters on the east side of the city—called for a vastly different environment with ample natural light and improved interaction between its 750 employees. “We wanted to enhance communication and transparency between the different divisions in order to promote innovation,” says Florence Péronnau, Sanofi’s director of real estate. What clinched the decision for Sanofi to go with STUDIOS was the architecture firm’s particular expertise in change management. STUDIOS had worked with the venerable catalog company La Redoute, as well as Reuters and Pfizer, through similar transformations. It also helped that the American firm has a Paris office to understand context.
STUDIOS consulted a group of 25 Sanofi employees from different departments from the start of the project. “We learned about their needs and the way they worked, mocking up the office furniture so they could see how it would all function. And we brought 80 percent of the total workforce to visit the construction site in progress, as a way to manage the angst of change,” says Alexandra Villegas, associate principal at STUDIOS and one of the two leads on the project.
Modern work styles inform the plan
The 215,300-square-foot building’s elegant street façade is deceptively narrow: The main seven-story building behind has a labyrinthine layout, in roughly a “B” shape wrapped around an atrium and a courtyard that had been covered in a renovation a decade earlier. Previously as Alcatel’s office, the atmosphere within was dark and formal with one- and two-person offices. “It was very cellular,” says Villegas. “It was a maze of corridors that all looked the same, you simply didn’t know where to go.”
STUDIOS set about a complete interior renovation, removing walls and creating workspaces that are 95 percent open, with glass-walled meeting rooms and interior glass partitions where some minimal new wall delineation is needed. STUDIOS also developed a way to connect the building visually at the center of its pretzel layout, turning the “B” layout into a “D.” A large lounge/meeting area, with windows that overlook both the atrium and the other courtyard, was inserted on each floor, fostering community while also providing instant interior orientation. “It embodies the shift in work habits and a complete reversal of the old way the staff interacted without a good space to meet,” says Villegas. These centers feature coffee bars with custom sculptural counters, and the seating includes mod purple chairs by Blå Station with built-in laptop rests.
To meet Sanofi’s desire for better global communications, the architects built a professional television broadcast studio as part of their renovation of the building’s 150-seat auditorium. In addition, two “telepresence” rooms are set up with Teliris equipment, with screens that create the impression that the participants are all in the room.
Fittingly for a healthcare company, the interior design emphasizes the rejuvenating aspects of nature with a bright palette of white and green. Designer Juan Trinidade designed a long, linear living wall in the entry lobby to create a greenhouse feel, and the architects added rows of skylights that wrap from ceiling down to the green edge. The atrium has been transformed into a year-round park-like space that hosts meetings, with formal hedges that separate different seating areas. Festooned with plants, the atrium’s columns are vertical gardens that also improve the acoustics within the 5,000-square-foot space.
As part of the renovation, the architects took special pains to bring back the building’s original features to their past glory: replacing broken stonework in the staircases, touching up the finely detailed wrought-iron railings, sanding down the marble floors, and cleaning the limestone facade. While the grandeur is most certainly restored, the exterior now belies the hospitality of the interiors.
“The headquarters is now a place where employees from other parts of the company can come and feel at home,” says Péronnau.
Key Design Highlights
- Community lounges on each floor provide visual orientation within a once confusing historic layout.
- A park-like atrium doubles as a business lounge or company-wide meeting area.
- Design elements such as the living wall and ample daylight underscore the theme of nature and health.
- The historic building is updated with state-of-the-art telecommunications systems, including a TV broadcast studio.
Designer STUDIOS Architecture
What 215,300 total square feet on seven floors
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request