Parisians revere the Champs de Mars, with the green expanse set to play a critical role in the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Famous for its temporary structure, it has hosted several Universal Expositions, producing pavilions, palaces, houses, monuments, fountains, bridges, paths, and grand esplanades.
Many of these structures became permanent installations, including the Eiffel Tower, constructed in the 1880s to celebrate the 1885 exposition.
In 1900, the Champs de Mars hosted its sixth ‘Exposition Universelle’, which famously coincided with the last time the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games.
As Paris gears up to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, which will see 95% of venues upcycled or retrofitted, one of these structures, Grand Palais Éphémère, is set to host the judo and wrestling competitions.
In February, Wood Central reported that the building, constructed in 2021, will be dismantled and reused after the Games.
Under French law, all new public buildings must use timber as their primary building material – with the Grand Palais Éphémère comprising a massive glue-laminated timber superstructure incorporating 1500 cubic metres of European spruce.
The building’s wooden structure is sustainable, highly versatile, and quick to assemble, making it a cost-effective and practical solution for temporary structures.
The spruce used in the glulam components were sourced from sustainably managed forests certified by the PEFC, ensuring that the building’s wooden structure is durable and environmentally responsible.
Designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte and his team at Wilmotte & Architects, it is a short-term replacement for the under-construction Grand Palais – the Beauz-Arts structure developed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.
Incredibly, the venue was designed and constructed within nine months, with a timber frame prefabricated by French mass timber company Mathis and assembled by construction crews in just three months!
Complicating the construction process, crews had to navigate the high water under the building without distributing the site’s foundations.
Workers had to drive thin piles for extra support, layering several materials into the inner skin, including mineral fibre insulation, plasterboard and fabric.
According to Mr Wimotte, the building “aesthetically reflects the Grand Palais while showcasing sustainable design and materials,” with harvested wood, embedded solar panels and mineral-based plastics incorporated into the design.
The new structure is “shaped like a cross,” is supported with 44 wood arches, and uses a triangular glulam truss system around a skin of durable plastic, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), and PVC vinyl fabric.
The result, Mr Wilmotte said, “is an open, column-free roof shell which offers more than 15,000 square metres of uninterrupted space.”
As reported in the New York Times, the building’s curved form takes cues from the Grand Palais’s barreled ceilings and crossed nave and is also inspired by the curved roofline of the École Militaire and latticed arches from the Eiffel Tower.
Distinctly modern, it has been stripped back to its structure and cladding with demountable partitions, allowing organisers to adapt the space for different events.
Its crossed naves measure 150 and 140 metres long, with the roof reaching a height of 20 metres, which importantly preserves views of the École Militaire.
The building even incorporates the site’s famed statue of Marshal Joseph Joffre, a commander in chief of the French Army during World War I, who stands just inside the glass-fronted south facade.
“I’m so happy to create a dialogue between contemporary and historical elements,” Mr. Wilmotte told the New York Times.
“We can mix old stone with new stone; old wood with new wood. I like to combine them, but I also like to oppose them. When you design contemporary besides historical, you upgrade. The contemporary elements are never lost. I think both of them win.”
And despite plans for the Grand Palais Éphémère to be dismantled after the Games, there is now a push headlined by the French Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, to make it permanent.
“It’s possible it could become permanent,” he added. “People love it because it’s so flexible. You can open it one day for horses to perform, and the next day, you can host Paris.”
Mr Wimottee, aged 75, said mayors around France are inquiring about getting their versions.
He’s open to whatever form that could take — but preferably, it’s something different.
“I have one speciality — I never do the same thing twice,” he said. “I’m always trying to do something new. To understand something new.”