The Galeries Lafayette already has an exhibition space devoted to art, contemporary fashion and design: the Galerie des Galeries, which opened in the store in 2001. Mr. Houzé, 36, an established collector cherished by commercial galleries around the Marais, said his passion for art drew him to engage more deeply. “In 2011, I convinced my family to further our commitment and to imagine creating a foundation, but actually I had no idea about what we would do,” he recalled. “Paris has a lot of institutions and foundations.”
There is indeed plenty of competition for the art-loving public’s attention. Alongside public institutions like the Pompidou Center and Palais de Tokyo, the city is served by the Cartier Foundation, the Ricard Foundation, and the recently opened Louis Vuitton Foundation and Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation. Next year, the luxury magnate François Pinault will open a private museum to showcase his art collection in the central Bourse de Commerce, which sits midway between the Pompidou Center and the Louvre.
What Mr. Houzé hopes will set Lafayette Anticipations apart will be its provisions for production, with exchanges of ideas across disciplines and the ability to fabricate artworks and spectacles on a massive scale, for exhibition both on and off site. Ahead of the building’s completion, well-equipped workshops in the basement were already up and running, assisting in projects destined for the Tate, the New Museum in New York, the Kunsthalle Basel and the Pompidou Center.
In English, Rue du Plâtre, the location of the new art space, translates as “plaster street.” Lafayette Anticipations has brought the plaster workers back to one of the most architecturally protected areas of Paris, and with them carpenters, metalworkers, programmers, dressmakers and all else that an artist might need to realize an ambitious work.
Mr. Koolhaas’s involvement started in late 2011, when Ms. Finders joined Mr. Koolhaas’s firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. She continued her conversations with Mr. Houzé and his team, helping them delve further into the connections between Galeries Lafayette and the Paris art world, not just in terms of patronage and investment but in episodes of historical coincidence. “The department store was born at the same time as the art salon, and the new urban development of Paris,” Ms. Finders said.
The following year, Galeries Lafayette invited the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and its research arm to mount a historical exhibition in the Galerie des Galeries. Together with a team in the Koolhaas firm that included the architect Clément Périssé, Ms. Finders dug into the archives on the ninth floor of the Boulevard Haussmann building. Exploring the family’s history was a process Mr. Périssé called “a sort of mutual psychoanalysis” between the architects and the Galeries Lafayette group. For Ms. Finders, it was a means, too, of divining how accommodating Mr. Houzé and his group might be to radical propositions: “We needed to know what they could tolerate: What was their breaking point.”
Besides Galeries Lafayette’s innovations in retail, what stood out in Mr. Périssé and Ms. Finders’ study was the store’s long heritage of production, from apparel making through contemporary design. This tradition of creating and commissioning became foundational to the art space’s identity: The name Lafayette Anticipations was chosen to suggest the start of a process and expectations of things to come.
THE GOAL to be a nimble platform for creation has been given rather literal physical form in Mr. Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s design. A glass box with four movable segments of flooring on vertical tracks now occupies a former courtyard space. These provide adaptable space at the core.
The movable parts offer 49 possible configurations to accommodate a range of projects. “Since it’s not about a collection, you couldn’t be precise” about what would be exhibited and how, Mr. Koolhaas said. “Performance, ballet, theater, music, concerts, digital, video, film: Already, those are extremely diverse and can sometimes have opposite demands. We have to accommodate all of those.”
This is not the Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s first building with a central elevating platform. In 1998, it unveiled the audacious Maison Bordeaux, a home created for a client in a wheelchair. More radical, perhaps, is the discretion of this project: The architect’s intervention is not visible from the street. Mr. Koolhaas, whose firm is responsible for memorable landmarks like the looping CCTV headquarters in Beijing, said there is now a “total excess in terms of visibility of architecture.”
Rather than plan more attention-grabbing buildings, he suggested that architecture insinuate itself into the fabric of a city. Mr. Koolhaas rejects the idea that Paris’s status as a living museum stultifies innovation. “I, myself, would have maybe represented that idea even 10 or 12 years ago,” he conceded. Today, the notion that architectural preservation necessarily causes creative stagnation is, he said, “simply a lack of ambition: a lack of understanding of what you can do within preservation.”
“So, for me, preservation became a very interesting field,” he continued, suggesting a new urban paradigm in which architects leave the existing architectural language of the street intact and reimagine those portions that are out of sight. “I think it’s also, in a certain way, an interesting, new, metropolitan style,” he said, “old outside but super fresh, new, inside.”
The Marais is already home to several buildings that hide contemporary glass boxes behind Haussmannian facades. Many, like the Marian Goodman Gallery, are adapted to accommodate contemporary artworks that grow ever larger, in turn, to fill the outsize exhibition spaces of modern museums and galleries.
The hulklike growth is part of a phenomenon Mr. Koolhaas himself once called the “Tate effect,” referring to the vast Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London. While he might not acknowledge it as such, one could view Lafayette Anticipations’ production facility as, in part, an architect and a collector’s solution to an architect- and collector-generated problem: a way to help artists tasked with filling enormous gallery spaces beyond the practical scope of an individual.
LAFAYETTE ANTICIPATIONS itself is of relatively modest dimensions, with 9,400 square feet of exhibition space — less than a quarter of the Louis Vuitton Foundation’s. It reflects Mr. Houzé’s positioning of his institution “on the side” of Paris’s new art ecosystem. Unlike the huge crowds that attend the Palais de Tokyo openings, Lafayette looks to keep its audiences small and focused.
Asked how he might judge success, if not by audience size, Lafayette Anticipations’ managing director, François Quentin, suggested it might come from the liberated quality that emerges when commercial imperatives are removed.
In Paris, as in London and New York, the cost of living puts pressure on artists to create work that can be sold. Rising rents have driven artist-run spaces out of the city center and fomented the closing of smaller independent galleries. Lafayette Anticipations “was not conceived to be an alternative, but of course it is,” Mr. Quentin said. “Sometimes we are able to produce things that neither galleries nor museums are able or wanted to produce.”
Working with three associate curators in programming the art space, among them Charles Aubin of Performa in New York, Mr. Quentin is setting his sights on the international as well as the local scene. The only common criterion that he seeks in artists to work with is “intelligence”: bright minds for a bright new space.
It’s too soon to say what the impact will be on the Paris scene. Perhaps for this reason, Lafayette Anticipations’ future has been left open: Only two shows have been scheduled, including the opening exhibition, a site-specific installation by the New York artist Lutz Bacher.
“I have an image of where the foundation could be in 25 years,” Mr. Quentin said, smiling. “But I have no idea of what we’re going to do in two.”