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One city’s world-class architect is another’s world-class eyesore. Such is the case with the long, unhappy arguments over Samaritaine, the exceptionally beautiful long-closed department store which sits on some of the most valuable real estate in Paris.


Named after a 17th century hydralic water-pump on the Pont-Neuf (now long-gone) it was owned by the Cognac-Jay family (themselves famed for their collecting). It is very large, and sits on its own little island, with an astonishing 48,000 meters2 of floor space. The entire building was classed an historical monument. (Full disclosure here – it was one of my favorite places in Paris in the 1980’s).

It was bought by the LVMH folks (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy for those not in the know) in 2000, with the idea of making it a new standard for luxury brands. It didn’t quite live up to expectations. In 2005 La Samaritaine closed for two weeks, to take a look over safety standards. Lots of head-shaking, workers strike, building closed. In 2010, LVMH bought the rest of the shares it didn’t already own from the Cognac-Jay Foundation. Now the story becomes interesting…

By the middle of 2010, pretty much all pretense of “rehabilitating” the department store – and the jobs that went with it - quietly went away. The new project would feature a luxury hotel, offices , 95 units of social housing (because what goes better with a luxury hotel?), and a crèche.

In 2011, the Council gave its approval , and the Japanese architects Sanaa, winners of the Pritzker Prize were engaged to “modernize the site without changing it’s essential nature”, and by 2012 construction permits were in place. By the beginning of 2013 the furious protest started. And they went on and on. The protesters didn’t like the architect (he wasn’t French). They didn’t like the design (which won an international design competition). And finally, it wasn’t elegant enough. This for a part of the Rue de Rivoli currently home to a member of the Hippopotamus hamburger chain and that epitome of haute couture, Forever 21.

Lawsuits. Counter-suits. Protests.

On 13 January 2015, a court halted all work – for the second time, and after 2 smaller buildings had already been razed. Back LVMH went to court. 19 June 2015, a court finally ruled in favor of LVMH and their original construction permit. The Vinci Engineers and architects (they were the group who had won the construction bid) were there within 2 days. Last week the sound of hammers could again be heard. Construction has started. There is a rumour it may even involve some weekends.

The project is currently expected to take 30 months, at a cost of approximately 460 million Euros. And it will generate a lot of jobs. When finished, I’m betting the hotel will serve Moet et Chandon.