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Designing Industrial Sites

1920 • 2011

Manufacturing facilities are nerve centers of activity and should possess two key attributes: efficiency and quality. Over the years, all Gattefossé factories in France have met the highest manufacturing standards and reflect the business culture at Gattefossé as a whole: facilities divided into pavilions and a garden of aromatic and medicinal shrubs embrace both the company’s unique approach to engineering and its clear focus on plants.


In 1920, an entire industrial village sprung to life at 110 route de Crémieu in Villeurbanne. At least fifteen separate buildings were constructed on the SFPA’s vast patch of land, SFPA being the acronym used by the company when it ceased operating as “Établissements Gattefossé” at the end of the war. Each building had a very distinct function. There was one devoted to synthetic fragrances, another served as a packing facility, a third functioned as a warehouse for raw essential oils, and there were several manufacturing and laboratory pavilions, workshops, two residential buildings and even a water tower!

The decision to separate the facility into separate entities was made for one key reason: to prevent fire spreading. The disaster of 1906 was always in the back of René-Maurice’s mind as it turned the inside of the “factory” (then a facility built on the land of the Montchat family home) into a blazing inferno.

As a result, he vehemently promoted the concept of an industrial site organized into “pavilions”, an architectural design applied elsewhere for its clear ability to contain fire, which was susceptible to spread. The architect Tony Garnier had thought the same when he designed a “garden city for the sick” in the Grange-Blanche district of Lyon, subsequently named the Édouard Herriot hospital*.

One of the laboratories of the SFPA factory in Villeurbanne, in 1920. On the left, Jean Gattefossé.

The SFPA botanical garden, which was planted with clary sage, was completely experimental. It was a nursery of carefully selected plant varieties sown over two hectares of land, and new essence flowers were grown there, ready for testing.

*Construction began in 1913 but the hospital did not open until 1933.


2011 marked the opening of the “Blanche Gattefossé Formulation Biopole”, named after René-Maurice’s wife. The new center, on the Gattefossé industrial site in France, boasted highly advanced technical facilities. The 1,600m2 HQE-certified laboratory was located next to the manufacturing building (called the “René-Maurice Gattefossé Factory”), a holding building (the “Henri-Marcel Gattefossé Center”) and research facility (the “Émile Mahler laboratory”). This meant that all applications facilities for cosmetic and pharmaceutical activities were in the same place, alongside a cell biology laboratory for identifying and highlighting the properties of plant extracts developed by the business.

The layout, which dates back to 1966, echoes that of 1920.

Gattefossé headquarters, France.

Taking a functional approach and allocating units to separate, purpose-built facilities at Saint-Priest showed a heightened awareness of René-Maurice’s earlier precautions. Spread out over a large campus, the onsite architecture is user-friendly and enhanced by an ornamental garden, which was also opened in 2011. The garden plays an important role in highlighting the fact that botany, studied both by pharmacists and cosmetologists, is an essential part of Gattefossé’s identity. More subtly, when you see employees stop to touch the lavender in the “Jean Gattefossé” garden, you cannot help but think of the company’s “sensorial expertise” and how that has been central to the Gattefossé brand since the 1990s.

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Designing Industrial Sites