A new angle on an old favourite

Nick Myall
Monday 20 Jun 2016

This venue’s blue metallic web structure, sloping lawns and bold pyramidal design make a strong imprint upon the panorama of Paris

Ranking as one of the most emblematic structures in the landscape of Paris, France, the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy has been reborn under a new light, thanks to the work of the architects from the DVVD agency. Modernised, expanded, upgraded to 21st-century norms and standards, and above all delivered to the public in record time, the new AccorHotels Arena stands out as one of the strong points in the candidature of Paris to host the summer Olympics in 2024. 

The largest venue for concerts, shows and sports events in France, the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy (POPB) was opened in February 1984, in the 12th arrondissement of the capital. At that time, it formed part of a major urban development project for eastern Paris, which was already exceptionally well-served (thanks to the proximity of the Gare de Lyon, the RER rapid transit system, the Métro, the Right Bank expressway and the Boulevard Périphérique). Designed by the architectural team of Andrault, Parat, Prouvé and Guvan to replace the Vel d’Hiv stadium, it rapidly became a key venue in the cultural life of Paris. Its blue metallic web structure, its sloping lawns and its bold pyramidal design made a strong imprint upon the panorama of the city and captured the imagination of the public, who thronged there to attend the performances of leading signers or sports stars. From funboarding to stock car racing, from Madonna concerts to acrobatic ski-ing, this venue already enjoys a globally unique multi-purpose capability, which has made its reputation. However, after three decades of intensive use, the venue is no longer consistent with the practices and requirements of organizers and spectators in the 21st century. Renovation was therefore needed to bring the venue up to the level of the greatest arenas in the world, whether in terms of the hosting of events, the comfort of users or performances. As Julien Colette, the new General Manager of the facility puts it: “The objective was the rebirth of the Bercy stadium as a modern and innovative arena, highly focused on the quality of the visitor experience for all its audiences”. An ambitious programme, in technical, functional and upgrading terms, was formulated by the DVVD architecture, design & engineering agency, selected in 2011 by a tendering procedure organized by the POPB operating company. This was a salutary intervention, conducted with respect for the history of the existing structure, and delivering fresh impetus and new prospects in the run-up to the 2024 summer Olympics.

The challenge posed to the DVVD agency was huge, primarily involving the skilful management, with no overrun, of 17 months of works, divided into two phases. A first phase of seven months, for the renovation of the ice rink and the start of works on the main hall, with a two-month interruption in works for an interim reopening to host the BNP Paribas Masters tennis tournament and some thirty concerts. The second phase of 10 months, to be executed at a brisk pace, was to involve the reconstruction of the concert hall, the fitting-out of reception rooms, dressing rooms, public spaces, sports facilities, press rooms and show production facilities, the reworking of technical premises and the acoustic and thermal treatment of the outer shell of the building. All this was to be done without the slightest adjustment to due dates and costs, there being no possibility of an extension to the works budget of 110m euros, and the Masters tennis tournament being an annual event. A just-in-time schedule, with an extremely precise sequencing of phases, was devised as a result. Works supervisors were to operate zone-by-zone; design analyses were completed to an extreme degree of detail, in order to avoid any change in design in the course of works. At the peak period, nearly 1,200 people were working on-site under extreme demands in order to ensure the on-time official delivery of the project on 18th October 2015. The venue has also changed its name: the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy has made way for the AccorHotels Arena, following a naming operation which forms part of the economic model for the financing of schemes with no public subsidy.

In this major achievement, praise is due to the disparity between the economy of resources and the resulting quality of spaces and ambiances, unparalleled in modern arenas.

Nick Myall

News Editor

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