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Name   French Communist Party Headquarters
Architects   NIEMEYER, OSCAR
Date   1967-1981
Address   2 Place du Colonel Fabien, Paris, FRANCE
Floor Plan    

PARTY PIECE Oscar Niemeyer’s stunning headquarters for the French Communist Party in Paris was commissioned in the late 1960s – a time when the Communists enjoyed great popularity in France.

A Communist himself, Niemeyer waived his fee for the building. Visitors enter the building down a small flight of steps into the main foyer space. This strange, undulating landscape, intended to suggest a hillside, leads to the main conference hall whose white domed roof rises up out of the forecourt. Above ground, Niemeyer built six floors of offices in a gently waving plan, with a curtain-walled façade designed in conjunction with engineer Jean Prouvé. Views down from the roof terrace suggest the shape of a hammer and sickle in the landscape of the forecourt.

Niemeyer’s building and original furnishings have survived largely intact. The Communist Party no longer occupies all the office floors, and has converted the top floor café for office use.


Communist Party Headquarters
Chosen by Edgar Gonzalez of Brisac Gonzale

“I’m Cuban-born and like most Cubans who manage to leave, the last thing you want to visit is something Communist! But with Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party building, I was interested in it from an architectural, not a political, perspective.

I first visited the building in 1985, when I was studying in Vicenza at the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, and I have been back three times since. Because I was overdosing on Palladian architecture, I thought I’d go to Paris and escape from northern Italian Renaissance architecture to something rather more contemporary. I’d seen the French Communist Party headquarters in books on Niemeyer and around that time had visited the Interbau apartments in Berlin – his take on Le Corbusier’s’ Unité d’Habitation. It’s an anomaly to find this kind of architecture in the historic centres of European cities, especially in Paris.

What I like most is that it’s old school. It’s not trying to be witty or clever. It doesn’t pay homage to other buildings. The building incorporates interesting structural solutions, but they are not the main attraction. It’s an exercise in space – it’s sculptural, but beyond a simplistic object.

For me, the best part is how this S-shaped building appears to be holding back the very dense Parisian street fabric in order to create an open space at the corner of the site overlooking Place du Colonel Fabien.

Inside, the point where the dome meets the sloping floor is great; there is a nice dynamic between the two geometries. The office block feels very light as it appears to hover above the ground, The way a building meets the ground is very important in our work too.

Many buildings have grand stairs that one walks up, but here you walk down a fairly humble staircase. The stairs lead into a somewhat James Bond-like underground space, which is the main foyer. Conventionally, it’s not what you would call a spectacular space or a beautiful space – there is little natural light and no views out, but once you get over that, it is very pleasant and architecturally very rich. It’s an exercise in the manipulation of space without natural light through elements such as the unusual undulating floor, the reflective mirrored walls, and highly tactile in-situ concrete walls. The furniture is also fantastic. The floor is pretty wild – you wouldn’t get away with it now – and gives a really interesting spatial effect. If you had a flat floor instead, the underground space would be very oppressive and you’d go a bit crazy in there.

Being by Niemeyer, there’s lots of in-situ concrete including these planar columns that are very sculptural, and you can see the nice shuttering detail. This texture softens up the concrete which would otherwise look a bit bland. I really like the built-in furniture which has in-situ concrete lined with leather cushions.

The main conference hall ceiling is reminiscent of Paco Rabanne’s spherical disc dresses from the sixties. You would’ve have seen lots of suspended ceiling tiles like that in seventies airports. Here the ceiling is made of hundreds of strips of chemically treated metal to improve the acoustics and the light quality.

I hadn’t noticed until I went back on our revisit how these panels animate the space just enough for you to forget you are in an enclosed dome with no access to the outside. And even though it’s artificial light, the quality is actually quite good.

I’ve always liked that the building has several different temperaments. After the cavernous underground areas which feel very secure, you move up into the offices which feel very light and inviting, with two long sides of glass curtain walling bookended by solid ends of ceramic tiles. The single-glazed façade can be opened. Then there’s the roof terrace which is a fairly sculptural element quite different from other parts of the building, with areas cut out to allow light into what was the top-floor café.

The main way it has influenced me is in terms of how a building can use architecture to create new urban space on a site. For the National Academy of Arts competition we did in Bergen, the idea of creating new civic space around the building is one that subconciously or not, was influenced by Niemeyer’s work.

In our proposal for a cultural centre in Sainte-Maxime in the south of France, the building’s periphery created an oasis of open space in a former quarry. I’ve never really linked our Aberdeen visual arts centre project to Niemeyer’s building, but the terracing does create more public space above the submerged accommodation than the current hillside. The Communist Party Headquarters had a more direct specific influence at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden, where we used similarly expressive shuttering on the stairs and a large mushroom-like column.

The Paris headquarters is a sculptural building with many intricacies which also creates an open space in the city centre. It’s more than a one-liner. For me, along with Jean Nouvel’s Fondation Cartier, it is one of two buildings in Paris that I’ll return to again and again. They are very different, but both use architecture to create unique urban conditions.”


Buxton, Pamela, 50 Architects 50 Buildings: The Buildings That Inspire Architects, Batsford, 2016 

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