The ambition behind the renovation of the Musée national de la Marine in Paris was to rethink the organization within the museum’s services to offer visitors and employees a functional environment for work, discovery, and exchange.
The design of the new museum is characterized by curved and circular forms, in keeping with the existing geometry of the building and subtly referencing the natural movement of water. This dynamic architectural movement facilitates circulation and connectivity between spaces and encourages more fluid interaction.
Drawing from the building’s different historical layouts, h2o architects and Snøhetta have restored the monumental volumes of the existing structure, creating ideal spaces for the newly imagined visitor experience and supplementary functions.
Musée National de la Marine
OPPIC-Opérateur du Patrimoine et des projets immobiliers de la culture
Construction economist: VPEAS
Structural design: Équilibre Structures
HVAC engineer, systems engineer, sustainability consultant for operations and maintenance: IGREC Ingénierie
Lighting designer: Agence ON
Acoustical engineering: Impédance ingénierie
Project management monuments historiques: Lionel Dubois and Pierre Bortolussi
Fire safety and accessibility consultant: Casso & Associés
Scenography of the auditorium: Scenevolution
A historical cultural institution
The museum is located in the historic Palais Chaillot, which was built in 1878 and subsequently restructured for the 1937 World’s Fair and is protected by its heritage status. h2o architects and Snøhetta worked hand in hand in renovating the building by establishing a close dialogue between the building’s successive construction states and a renewed, contemporary vision of the maritime world and its challenges.
References to water
The design of the new museum is characterized by curved and circular forms, consistent with the existing geometry of the building and subtly referencing the natural movement of water. Visitors are guided on an immersive and intuitive journey with several possible pathway. Like the ebb and flow of waves, the new visitor experience weaves together contemporary and existing elements, recounting the history of this prestigious institution with renewed vitality. The coexistence of historical and contemporary architecture carries the visitor’s imagination beyond the walls of the museum to wider and more distant shores.
The visit begins in the intimate, quiet atmosphere of the vestibule, progressively immersing the visitor in the world of the museum before moving into the heart of the luminous, spacious full-height hall, from which one can directly access the museum’s various services, such as exhibit space, restaurant, bookshop and boutique, seminar rooms, and auditorium. The play of transparency reveals the graceful curves of the Galerie Davioud – inspired by its 1937 layout – and provides a glimpse of the functions associated with the newly created mezzanine levels, including a pressroom, members’ lounge, and exhibition space. A double wall creates a functional transitional space, housing technical devices required for exhibit installation and the thermal envelope.
The reopening of the historic staircase, which dates from the original 1878 project, streamlines the visitor experience by creating multiple possible pathways between the plaza and garden levels, integrating both the temporary and permanent exhibit areas. The position of the building, nestled in the hillside between the Trocadero Plaza and Gardens, is revealed through punctual façade openings and the creation of an oculus in the end pavilion, which establishes a visual connection between the two levels, anchors the museum in the surrounding environment.
Connecting past and future
The starting point for this vast renovation project was the transformation of the 1878 Palais du Trocadéro into the Palais de Chaillot by Carlu, Boileau and Azéma for the 1937 World’s Fair. The palace wing was enlarged for the occasion: a new gallery facing the gardens, the Carlu Gallery, was added to the original Davioud Gallery, and the entire interior was clad in a refined double wall, creating unified, monumental spaces within the eclectic architecture.
The renovation project establishes a delicate dialogue between the past and future of the museum, resonating with the building’s history by reconstituting the exceptionally large and harmonious volumes of the 1937 galleries. In its new layout, the Musée national de la Marine houses its permanent collections on the two Gallery Davoud levels (ground floor and garden level) which stretch over 150 meters, while the new auditorium and temporary exhibits are housed in the Carlu Gallery, which is more open to the outside.
Bringing the sea to Paris
The museum and exhibition design practice Casson Mann has created an imaginative visitor experience with a vision to bring the sea to Paris. The scenography evolved in direct response to the extraordinary scale and fluidity of the museum’s original curving galleries. At the heart of the concept is a promenade of large-scale sculptural interventions that maintain a dramatic dialogue with the volumes they inhabit.
In addition to the sculptural installations, visitors can enjoy thematic galleries that tell stories of human endeavor – commerce, sport, leisure, travel, war, peace, fear, loss and survival – subjects intensified by life at sea. The historic collections, comprising navigation devices, ship models, paintings and sculptures, are displayed to give visitors the closest possible engagement with the objects.
Designed to appeal to a wide audience, the installations, soundscapes and atmospheric lighting engage the senses, elevating the museum into an experiential adventure. The design achieves the highest standards of accessibility, with devices such as audio beacons, tactile orientation and guidance, ensuring enjoyment for all.
By reopening existing window frames, the project reinforces visual connection between the museum and its surroundings: the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Gardens are now visible from the exhibition spaces. The architectural project reincorporates the end pavilion at the midpoint of the visitor journey: it becomes the natural inflection point for the curved gallery.
The oculus, designed by Davioud for the 1937 project but never built, finally sees the light of day. With its impressive new height, the end pavilion creates a visual connection between the superposed gallery levels and highlights the 1878 vaulted ceiling, which has also been restored.
Material choices and natural and artificial lighting complement the overall museum experience by adding a modern touch to the historic interior. Wooden elements such as furniture and flooring echo the traditional materiality of the marine industry. Throughout the building, a careful balance of natural and artificial light creates a more luminous and open space – all the way from the exhibition spaces to the café area, the conference center, the auditorium and the meeting rooms.
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