Poste Immo has launched an international competition to regenerate the Palais du Commerce and surrounding Place de la République square in Rennes, France (Deadline: 15 October)
Open to multidisciplinary teams of architects, investors, developers, and other experts, the competition seeks proposals to transform the landmark 12,000m² structure which has hosted a city-centre post office and café since it first opened in 1929.
The call for submissions, organised by the real estate arm of France’s Groupe La Poste and supported by the City of Rennes, aims to transform the complex to create a new focal point for the historic settlement which was recently named the best place to live in the country.
Rennes Palais du Commerce, France
Source: Image by Florent Michel
According to the brief: ‘The objective of this call for projects is to imagine the future life of this emblematic place while taking into account the values of the Le Groupe La Poste and the urban heritage of Rennes.
‘For this site, which represents a key economic development challenge, Poste Immo, La Poste Group and public partners are expecting applicants to provide proposals which are innovative, functional, long-term and economically viable. In addition, a high-quality project must contribute to the overall enhancement of the district, in line with the City of Rennes’ urban project to redevelop the Place de la République square.’
Located in the east of Brittany in north-west France, Rennes expanded from a small Gallic village named Condate into one of France’s most important high-tech communications hubs. Today the city is home to around 720,000 inhabitants and 66,000 students.
Designed by Jean-Baptiste Martenot then Emmanuel Le Ray, the five-storey Palais du Commerce complex was created in several phases between 1887 and 1930. Originally designed as a post office and stock exchange, the building has been converted into a library, art school and music conservatory over the years along but has always included its original post office and café.
The building occupies a key location at the city’s main axis overlooking a crossing point over the Vilaine River and close to a metro station, bicycle terminals and bus stops. The latest project is part of Groupe La Poste’s wider programme to rethink its enormous 6.5 million m² property portfolio which covers more than 11,000 buildings across France, including many high-quality city centre landmarks.
The competition seeks proposals to regenerate the Neoclassical Palais du Commerce to create a new future for the building and enhance the ongoing regeneration of Rennes city centre. Winners will be announced at the end of the year.
How to apply
The deadline for submissions is 15 October
Somerset House case study: Q&A with Edward Jones
The co-founder of Dixon Jones discusses lessons learned restoring the courtyard at Somerset House in London
How did your project create revitalise Somerset House and create a public space for London?
This magnificent courtyard had been misused for a number of years as a carpark for the Inland Revenue. A not dissimilar misuse of potential public space had prevailed at Horse Guards Parade, now corrected. With the creation of the Somerset House Trust, and the initiative of its chairman, Jacob Rothschild, the cars were removed and the space made available. This client initiative was vital to the revitalisation of the courtyard.
Somerset House courtyard by Dixon Jones
Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?
Our principal reaction was to retain an open and flexible nature, avoiding any permanent structures or trees. This would allow seasonal and spontaneous events to occur, for example, ice skating in the winter, and open-air concerts, theatre and movies in the summer. As a result of new granite paving, we realised the space would be inhospitably hot in the summer, so we proposed a grove of water jets. Fifty-five stainless-steel plates were laid out on a grid set flush with the paving. The grid was generated by the geometry of the façade. When not in operation the plates are nearly invisible and events could then take place above them. When in operation, 55 jets of water from 1 to 6 metres in height are released, controlled by a computer programme. At night, fibre optics concealed in the base plates illuminate the water. The fountains and floodlighting transform the courtyard from its previous use as a civil servants carpark into one of London’s most dramatic public rooms.
Somerset House courtyard by Dixon Jones
What advice would you have to contest participants on rethinking the future of Rennes’s Palais du Commerce?
Our advice is to do as little as possible, but to enhance the given quality of the building. In the case of Somerset House, we allowed a flexibility of use to emerge, dramatised by the use of light and provisional installations, resulting in seasonal and unexpected transformations of the space.
Somerset House courtyard by Dixon Jones
Q&A with Remi Féredj
The chief executive of Poste Immo discusses his ambitions for the contest
Source: Image by Fatima Jellaoui
Why are your holding a contest to rethink the future of the Palais du Commerce in Rennes?
Le Groupe La Poste has a history and a fully-fledged status in the urban planning landscape. La Poste’s large property assets offer a unique observatory of pluralistic lifestyles. The call for projects on the Palais du Commerce in Rennes, included in the “Patrimoine Postal en Mouvement” program illustrates an approach to experimenting with new uses while expanding the scope of reflection to other stakeholders in order to enrich and accelerate the environmental, social, programmatic, technological or cultural processes of innovation.
When signing the “Place de la République-Palais du Commerce” agreement protocol on March 2017, Philippe Bajou, Chairman of the board of directors of Poste Immo and Secretary General of Le Groupe La Poste, Nathalie Appéré, Mayor of Rennes, and Christophe Mirmand, Regional Prefect of Ille et Vilaine, asserted their common will for the urban development of the iconic Place de la République square and Palais du Commerce building in Rennes, while embracing the “Rennes 2030” urban project’s ambitions. That’s why we decided to launch our Patrimoine Postal en Mouvement program in Rennes by this call for projects.
We have chosen to proceed by a call for projects because we want to innovate and keep doors opened to new processes and uses ; to support new visions, new analysis, new models. For the same reasons, we open the call for projects to local, national and international candidates.
What is your vision for the new Palais du Commerce?
The Palais du Commerce stands as a singular place in Rennes. Built at the very junction of Cardo and Decumanus ancient Roman roads, he saw the city develop on the other side of the river. A former element of centrality, it has in a sense become a barrier separating rather distinct urban spaces. But it remains so majestic.
It is therefore a question of finding a functional centrality for this building. How can the Palais du Commerce complete the urban disposal offered by the tube and the square covering the Vilaine’s river, thanks to the programming and evolutions that candidates will propose us ?
It is nothing less than building a new tropism taking into account this rather singular form taken in the urban space. With this ambition, Le Groupe La Poste intends to assert the relevance of its know-how in the manufacturing and life of cities. It is our DNA.
The building is not classified in itself but is located in the centre of Rennes and its architectural heritage. The teams will have to find the right weighting, know how to innovate while respecting history, which means architectural innovation and quality are very important for this call for projects as much as relevant programming.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
We want to be convinced by relevant proposals. We are expecting relevant, innovative, bold proposals as far as architectural and environmental dimensions are concerned while taking into account the values of Le Groupe La Poste. Our call for projects is opened to every candidate who can help us to give the Palais du Commerce in Rennes a long term new life.
We obviously want designers who understand the importance of this heritage as a historic landmark for Rennes inhabitants and designers who know how to respect it. But respecting does not necessarily mean freezing the Palais du Commerce and we want to offer architects the opportunity to transform it with consideration and work on use.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
Of course we are thinking about other topics. However, call for projects must remain exception processes. The heritage of the 70s real estate is also of interest to us and it is not excluded that we propose it soon for reflection. Other buildings or programmes will be the object of architectural competitions, which is the form of intervention that we will favour. Architecture is not sufficiently supported in France.
Are there any other similar historic building regeneration projects you have been impressed by?
Le Groupe La Poste’s real estate property is in itself a reference in terms of architectural transformation. The ongoing renovation of the Poste du Louvre, managed by Poste Immo with architect Dominique Perrault is a good illustration. It is an outstanding building, not only in terms of construction.
We also converted a building from the 20th century, rue la Boétie and another in Marseille (dating from the end of the 19th century). Poste Immo asserts itself as a leading player in renovation of historic buildings because, as a subsidiary of a company that has strongly structured the national space, it knows how to articulate the conjunction between uses, times and centrality.
Finally, to quote some references that touch me, I would mention the extraordinary renovation of the service Station on the Ile aux Sœurs in Montreal. Designed by Mies van der Rohe, this service station has been reconverted by Eric Gauthier.
I also appreciate the renovation of the small Museum designed by Franck Lloyd Right in San Francisco, which has been a great source of inspiration for the Guggenheim New York.