Multifarious Matter: Les Halles 2030

Studio Robert Stuart-Smith, Weitzman School of Design   |  University of Pennsylvania
Collaborating Partner: Cemex Global Research HQ, Switzerland
TA: Musab Badahdah
701 M.Arch Design Studio

Students: Yunzhuo Hao. (Celia), Jonghyun Park, Qiaoxi Liu (Josie), Daniel Hurley, Khondaker Rahman (Onie), Mariana Righi, Hasan Uretmen, Ruochen Wang, Yuwei Wang, Yuhao Wu, Yi Dazhong, Xing Zhang, Shiling Zhong

Urban retail is undergoing a significant transformation due to the rise of online shopping. Amazon Go is the first supermarket to allow customers to walk out without paying at a register, while a suite of new fashion boutiques utilize virtual assistants to deliver clothing to change rooms at the touch of a button. Beyond novelty, these applications of technology transform not only the experience of shopping, but also the square footage, fit-out, staffing, security, supply and delivery logistics. Apple’s park-bench and tree-scape interiors, or Nike’s half-court basketball facilities have become a destination in themselves. Extending beyond merchandise, experience is ultimately part of their product, producing a fuzzy edge to public space, capable of enhancing our urban experiences.

Inspired by Levi Bryant’s Democracy of Objectsand Stan Allen’s Field Conditions, the studio operated through both object and field, embracing all site objects and actors as active participants in design expression and considering them as integral to architecture. Materialconsiderations were also investigated through the designing of affects strategized through fabrication methods developed within a collaborative workshop at Cemex’s Global Research Centre in Switzerlandduring Travel Week. 

Reacting to Uber’s recent €25 Million investment into Paris Air-Taxi research, the studio explored a speculative near-present future, a post-human retail and public space in the context of emerging autonomous transportation infrastructure including e-scooters, air-taxis, autonomous cars and delivery bots in one of central Paris’s most important transportation and retail hubs; Les Halles.  Les Halles functioned as a market until a central and suburban railway station and shopping centre was constructed in 1971. The development was ambitious yet is considered a socio-political failure, entrapping suburbanites within its interior rather than facilitating their integration with the city, and became appropriated by fast-food venues and drug addicts. Its inadequacies were addressed by the recent construction of a new retail centre. Berger Anziutti Architects’s “La Canopée” enlarged the park, physically connecting it to a pedestrian concourse that crosses central Paris through to the Pompidou Centre in Beaubourg. While La Canopée is an improvement, it did not challenge our existing concept of retail. An opportunity remains in re-considering the nature of urban park and retail as a Posthuman entrepreneurial proposition, which may involve a downsizing, up-sizing or a redistribution of space for shoppers versus goods and entertainment or wellness vs retail. While Paris has been the site of seminal urban park concepts, Bernard Tschumi and OMA’s competition proposals for Park de la Villette are now 35 years old. The rise of Industry 4.0 may be potentially destabilizing to urban space as is currently known, yet it offers new opportunities for establishing complex and dynamic relationships between a park’s myriad of occupants, from human gatherings to autonomous garbage disposal vehicles. The studio explored alternative concepts for re-casting public space adjacent to new models of retail in this socio-political and economically charged Parisian transportation hub.