The project for the Garnier Opera's restaurant is slid beneath the 'Rotonde des Abonnés', inside the space that was originally the covered entrance for the privileged opera amateurs arriving by horse and carriage.
It consists of a wide restaurant room divided into a large space for about 90 seats on the ground floor, a bar and lounge, and a mezzanine with a 90-seat capacity. Outside, in front of the Rotonda, is a large outdoor terrace for 175 seats. The restaurant is accessible both from the outside terrace and, during performance intervals, directly from the opera.
The concept is based on the literal translation of the essential and unalterable constraint that nothing of the existing structure should be changed or even touched, as the project has to remain completely reversible.
The need for extra surface area has initiated the creation of the mezzanine floor, which then has taken place progressively over the central area, sliding along the stone pillars of the opera, coming forward and remaining cantilevered as if in suspension above the ground, but never touching the existing construction.
So, silently, almost insiduously, this smooth, proteiform shape gains the space, covering the lower level by its curved ceiling which, thanks to the slim columns of the stone pillars, seems to float over one. It also offers on its mezzanine level a sheltered space beneath the suddenly, unexpectedly close stone vault.
This white and smooth 'space invader' is like a phantom, the Phantom of the Opera. In this way, the project solves the strong contradictions between the untouchable existing monument, the choice for a contemporary architecture, and the smooth insertion of the new function of the restaurant together with its specific constraints, which convinced the client, the heritage authorities as well as the opera's direction of its appropriateness.
On the ground floor, different spaces are distinguished, characterised by somehow different ambiances: parts of the restaurant room are directly beneath the rotonda's centre, taking benefit of its monumental size; the space beneath the mezzanine is more dense and cosy; then, further away from the natural daylight is the lounge, situated at the edge of the proper opera's public spaces.
Finally, a huge black bar relinks throughout its snakey-shaped entrance, restaurant room and lounge. At the upper level, on the mezzanine, space is more private and intimate. Floor, parapets and integrated seats are covered with red carpet, creating various settings in shelter-like shapes.
From both levels, contact with the exterior is wide through the vast transparency of the glass facade inserted under the stone vault. The facade too respects the game of not touching the existing: like a huge stage curtain, it undulates among the pillars as a completely independent glass sheet.
Colour choice has come in the same natural way as the general shapes; the red, obvious in a theatre's context, was chosen to be a red-orange, brighter than the usual velour red; it lightens up the mezzanine's intimacy, and the carpet running down from the staircase designs a large area on the ground floor, like a red shadow, contrasting here with the black concrete floor which refers to the former pavement used by carriages.