Case Study

La Place des Terreaux, Lyon, France: a revamped historical square (1994+)

Improving the quality of the public realm can be a catalyst for urban development and/or redevelopment. During the 1980s the municipality of Lyon, France's third largest city, initiated a series of planning and design initiatives - the Lyon 2010 project. The model was the designs in Barcelona carried out under the direction of Oriel Bohigas. In Lyon a series of public works has been undertaken, many by internationally renowned architects: the Opera House was renovated by Jean Nouvel, the Satolas

Station was designed by Santiago Calatrava and the Cité International by Renzo Piano. The process was driven by politicians Henry Chabert (who was closely aligned with Lyon's mayor) and Jean Pierre Charbonneau.

These works were part of a number of coordinated plans of which the Schema d'Amenagement des Espaces Publics focused on seven spaces in the city. The Place des Terreaux was one of them. The overall budget for the seven spaces was tight - 350 million francs (about $US60 million). The square

(named for the city's earlier fortifications) is located in the very heart of Lyon. It has a long history but its present form began to take shape in the seventeenth century. The square has served as a marketplace, a place for public executions, and as an administrative centre. The nature of its enclosing elements and the history embedded in them has given the Place des Terreaux its character.

In 1990 the paved square was directly abutted on three sides by buildings and on the fourth a narrow street separated the adjacent buildings from it. Trams still run along this street adding life to the square. The buildings, largely unchanged, still serve to enclose the square. They themselves are of great historic note: the St. Pierre Abbey (1687 in its present form), the Hotel de Ville de Lyon (Town Hall, 1545-1651), houses that had become banks and other commercial uses, and a museum. Coffeehouses were located on the ground floor of a number of the buildings. On the south side was a fountain designed by Auguste Bartholdi. This sculpture was bought and erected in 1892 under the direction of the then mayor of Lyon. Called the 'Tank of Freedom', it symbolizes the flowing of the Garonne, the river running through Lyon, into the sea.

The automobile parking problem in the tight-knit heart of Lyon became acute in the 1990s so a decision was made to plug in a parking garage under the square - the solution the Los Angeles city administration had implemented at Pershing Square. The project was carried out under the overall control of the Urban Community of Lyon with a private company handling the engineering concerns. The design goal was to create a new place representing the 1990s while respecting the heritage value of the square. Tout changer sans rien toucher - change everything without touching anything - was the design principle; water and light were the design elements. The design team hired by the city comprised Daniel Buren as the sculptor, Christian Drevet as the architect, and Laurent Fachard as the lighting engineer. They were aided by Bruno Bossard and Catalin Badea of Lyon. Matt Mullican and Pierre Favre of Lyon designed the underground garage.

La Place des Terreaux remains a paved space but with some significant changes. The Bartholdi Fountain was moved across the square in order to allow for the installation of 69 mini water and light fountains. The fountains, fed by 17 pumps that spout water to different heights, cross the square in five lines 5.9 metres apart. A row of columns erected across the façade of the Palais St. Pierre is the only change to the enclosing elements of the square. The street on the south side of the square has boundary markers and different surface materials that distinguish it from the remainder of the square. The traffic along this one side continues to add a sense of bustle to the square. The entrances to the car park are outside the enclosing elements of the square and do not affect it as they do Pershing Square. Coffee shops and restaurants on the periphery open directly onto the space. The surrounding buildings are subtly floodlit during the hours of darkness adding to the ambience of the place at night (Figure 5.14).

The square is a centre of tourism with the cafés and restaurants being major attractions for people and the people themselves becoming major attractions for yet others. In addition to the public benches, the edge of the Bartholdi fountain is used for seating. Children (and teenagers) use the 69 fountains and the Bartholdi fountain as a playground.

Critics regard the redesigned square as a great artistic success (Broto, 2000). It has

Figure 5.14 La Place des Terreaux, Lyon. (a) A sketch of the square from the top of the Hotel de Ville, (b) the layout of the underground parking and (c) a sketch of the daytime use of the square.

Figure 5.14 La Place des Terreaux, Lyon. (a) A sketch of the square from the top of the Hotel de Ville, (b) the layout of the underground parking and (c) a sketch of the daytime use of the square.

been and remains the centre of Lyon, and is thus an important element, possibly the most important, in terms of giving the city an identity, in the city's public realm. The decision to redesign the Place des Terreaux was certainly one made in the public realm of politics and the square is an urban space. Is it urban design? The design of the parking garage is an architectural and engineering feat, the fountains a work of art and the paving landscape work. Overall the final product is a fine collaborative landscape architectural project in a city.

Major references

Bedarida, Marc (1995). Lione: la politica degli spazi publica. Casabella 59 (629): 8-23. Broto, Carles (2000). La Place des Terreaux. In New

Urban Design. Barcelona: Arian Mostaedi, 26-33. Gehl, Jan and Lars Gemz0e (2003). Place des Terreaux. In New City Spaces [translated by Karen Steenhard]. Copenhagen: Danish Architectural Press, 156-61.

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