The Canopy of Paris – seeking inspiration from a construction project

The Canopy of Paris – seeking inspiration from a construction project

canopy of Paris project

Recently the mayor of Paris unveiled a huge canopy in the center of Paris, on the surface of the les Halles metro station and underground shopping mall. It is one of the major urban redesign, renovation and construction project undertaken by the city of Paris in recent years. So, let’s see what this landmark construction project can teach us about project management.

Les Halles – a metro station, underground shopping and a public garden on the surface were built in the 1970s by demolishing an existing wholesale market pavilion.  This caused a lot of resentment and skepticism because they were not considered esthetic, especially the public garden. So, the city of Paris decided to renovate the metro transit system, shopping mall and design a new public garden and also cover it with a beautiful glass canopy which brings justice to this historic landmark. The city of Paris was the project sponsor and the SemPariSeine was the firm that managed and executed the project.

This time, to make things right, before the planning and construction phase many town hall-style meetings were organized during which different architectural plans and budgets were debated and discussed. The meetings were attended by all the stakeholders including users and people living near the construction area. Also, a huge outreach campaign was launched during the planning and construction phase. For example, feedback was solicited from commuters, neighboring residents and businesses. And once the project was launched in 2010, in order to instill confidence to the users and surrounding residents or general Parisians, the project team created various communication initiatives such as an exhibition and observation deck next to the project site which as open every day. The exhibitions consisted of models, pictures and plans of the finished products. Also, two exhibition staffs responded to questions form visitors. The project communication team communicated efficiently a via a website, social media, e-newsletters and a biannual magazine called Demain les Halles (Tommorow les Halles). These communication initiatives helped a lot to reduce the inconvenience during the construction phase and develop patience and trust among commuters.

So, this construction project is an excellent example of involving all the users and stakeholders before the planning and execution phase. It is also vital for a project manager to communicate regularly and efficiently by using all channels to develop confidence and restore trust during a crisis. If a project has an impact on the general public then it is not only a good idea but also important to communicate, explain and promote the project via exhibitions, websites and conferences. Especially if it is construction project which causes inconvenience and spans several years.

The project involved many risks and challenges. First, the Les Halles transit metro station is one of the largest metro stations in the world which serves many thousands of commuters each day. It was necessary that all the trains run as usual and commuters use the station to get to work. Second, the shopping center encompasses 6 underground levels.  It was primordial that the construction work didn’t interfere with the shopping experience. This required efficient and precise coordination by project managers between the different levels. Third, the workers couldn’t work in the night because the noise could disrupt the neighboring residents sleep. So, most of the work was done between 7 to 10 am.  Hence the complexity and labyrinth of challenges. On top of that, the project managers didn’t have any past project references to draw some inspiration, learn lessons or seek some best practices. It is one of a kind challenging project successfully completed by the city of Paris.