Fifteen architecture firms gave Paris' longest building a new lease of life

PARIS – At the northeastern edge of Paris, between the ring road and the railway tracks that cut through the city from the Gare de l’Est, is the more than 600-m-long Entrepôt Macdonald, designed by architect Marcel Forest and completed in 1969. Having fallen into disuse, the building was included in a large-scale urban renewal project in 2002. OMA won the competition for the renovation of the building, which is now almost complete. The former warehouse houses shops, offices, schools and more than 1100 dwellings. No fewer than 15 architecture firms collaborated on the renovation. Architect and former OMA partner Floris Alkemade and Xaveer De Geyter, respectively, were responsible for the master plan of the project.

How long is it, exactly?
FLORIS ALKEMADE: 617-m long. You can hardly believe your eyes. It just goes on and on. When I visit the site, it takes me half an hour to walk around the building. It used to be an entrepôt, for all sorts of things. It bordered the railroad, the Petite Ceinture and other connecting roads. I talked to the son of Marcel Forest, the architect. He came to visit a couple of times. He was involved in the construction and told me that when they started, they had no idea who’d be using it. That was in 1968, and the optimism is typical of that time. They were so optimistic that they made the support structure strong enough for a second warehouse to be built on top of the first one. We were happy to make use of that opportunity.

Did you need to make structural alterations to realize everything that’s been built on the site?
Oh, yes, we did. There were two problems. The biggest was that though the support structure was strong enough, the subsoil was unreliable. We drilled a number of holes near each foundation pile and filled them with a kind of concrete sludge. Second, we had to cut into the existing structure a lot, to create lift shafts, stairwells and so on. We had to brace every one of them, but that was relatively easy compared to reinforcing the foundations. To minimize our interference with the existing structure, we suggested using the same grid. The client didn’t want that though, since that grid is bigger than the standard one for French housing projects. In the end, they decided to include a concrete transfer layer and build on that, using regular housing measurements.

What exactly do you mean by ‘transfer layer’?
Concrete beams arranged in a kind of frame, since they had to cover spans in two directions. In one direction, we placed them on the column heads and in the others, they lock on to a smaller grid. It’s a huge thing, outrageously expensive and heavy, requiring even more adjustments to the foundations. The beams are about 1.80-m high. By now, people may be living in between them, like in Being John Malkovich.



A longer version of this article was originally published in Mark magazine issue #58

The credits of the plans and sections that appeared in the print version were accidentally left out. The credits of the drawings should have been:

Illustrations extraites de l'ouvrage :
141-221 boulevard Macdonald 75019 Paris / Reconversion de l'entrepôt Macdonald
Éditions du Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 2014
Sous la direction de Mathieu Mercuriali, architecte
© Pavillon de l'Arsenal  / illustrations : © Mathieu Mercuriali

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