Euralille Lille France a new city heart 1987 to the present

In 1994, Rem Koolhaas and his Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) prepared a master plan for the centre of Lille. Its aim was to create a new city in the heart of the old. The necessity of doing so had been the subject of considerable political negotiation. The growth of the European Union, the development of the Channel tunnel, and the desire to extend the North European line of France's TGV (Train a Gran Vitesse) had placed Lille, a city with a declining industrial base, at the centre of the London-Brussels-Paris business triangle. The city is strategically placed having a population of over 100 million people living within a radius of 300 kilometres (200 miles). It is, however, perhaps too close to Brussels to become a major centre.

The SNCF - the French national railway -in looking to develop its network north had proposed a stop in Seclin, a Lille suburb. It had calculated that the cost of running the line through central Lille would be 1.9 billion francs above the cost of running it through the outskirts of the city. In 1985 Lille's Deputy Mayor, Pierre Mauroy (Prime

Minister of France from 1981 to 1984) started to pressure the French government to have the train station in the centre of the city. In 1987 he had success. Mauroy went on to form a development management organization, Lille Metropole, to implement the project. Jean Peyelevade, a close associate, was placed in charge of raising funds. Lille Metropole with the regional office of the SNCF and the Regional Chamber of Commerce formed a public-private partnership to steer the project. The core shareholders were five major French banks.

Lille Metropole invited four French and four foreign architects to submit master plan proposals for the site. The French architects were Claude Vasconi, Jean-Paul Viguier, Yves Lyon and Michel Macary while the international ones were Norman Foster, Vittorio Gregotti, O. M. Ungers and Rem Koolhaas. The last mentioned's plan was accepted and the OMA became the master planner for Euralille. An all-of-a-piece urban design approach was followed with a number of illustrious architects working on the individual buildings in accordance with the master plan.

The prime consideration in the development of the urban design concept was its symbolic aesthetic character as a futuristic new business centre for Europe (see Figures 8.19 and 8.20). The central ideas of the scheme were those ofKoolhaas as presented in his book Delirious New York and his theories of 'bigness', 'commercialism', 'exhibitionism' and 'density without architecture' (Koolhaas, 1978). Selective voids to create a complexity of geometry and monumental architecture are the essential ingredients of the scheme. Philosophically, despite Koolhaas' observations in New York it is closer to the Rationalist tradition than the Empiricist.

The scheme has five major components:

1 The TGV station used by London-

Brussels trains.

Rem Kohlhaas Urban Structure
Figure 8.19 Rem Koolhaas' concept for Euralille.

2 A triangular forum outside the station (an 'expression of the conceptual opposition of history-future').

3 Le Corbusier Street (the main traffic thoroughfare linking station, business centre, the edges of Sant-Maurice and Le Corbusier Square where old and new cities meet).

4 The park.

5 The Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The whole is framed by the edges of the neighbourhood of Sant-Maurice. The Convention and Exhibition Centre is a 300-metre (1000-foot) long multi-functional structure designed to link the fragmented parts of the scheme. The TGV line runs on the surface through the city opening it up to view and views from it.

Implementation of the project took place over a decade in two phases. Phase One (1991-5) involved the acquisition of land and the building of the TGV line and station

Figure 8.20 Massing drawing of the development.
Figure 8.21 Two images of Euralille. (a) The link between the old station and the shopping centre and (b) The Credit Lyonnais tower.

(designed by Jean-Marie Duthilleul). The land available for development had been owned by the French military and had been a zone non-aedificandi - not available for development. The relevant legislation needed to be changed and had already been during the premiership of Mauroy. Progress on the implementation of the Koolhaas proposal was, however, hampered by the real estate crisis of Europe that also affected La Défense and Canary Wharf. A number of key investors abandoned the project leading to the dropping of some elements of the scheme (e.g. the four-star hotel). Phase Two (1995-2000) saw some amendments to the master plan but brought the project to semi-completion. The key buildings were an office tower for Credit Lyonnais (designed by Christian de Portzamparc and known locally as 'the boot'; see Figure 8.21b), the World Trade Centre (Claude Vasconi, Architect), a shopping and office centre (by Jean Nouvel), and Congress Centre and Rock Concert Hall designed by Rem Koolhaas himself. Seventy per cent of the building rights for the town centre had been sold by 2002 and Euralille2, a more suburban type mixed-use development is on the drawing boards.

The urban design is very much a personal statement of Rem Koolhaas. It has been attacked and defended largely on those grounds - as a work of art - in which the individual buildings are objects to be admired as signature statements. The objective has been to attain a high level of prestige for the development. It has been an extraordinarily expensive endeavour that demonstrates the interconnections amongst politics, ambitions for one's own city, urban design and architectural ideologies. It is Pierre Mauroy's dream and it was his arm-twisting that enabled Euralille to go ahead. The scheme also shows the importance of grand architectural ideas as a catalyst for business development. Le Corbusier would have been proud of the audacity of the project.

Major references

Goldberger, Paul (2000). The Architecture of Rem

Koolhaas. Los Angeles: Jensen and Walker. Koolhaas, Rem (1998). 1987-1998, OMA Rem

Koolhaas. Madrid: El Croquis Editorial. Spaans, Marjolein (2004). The implementation of urban regeneration projects in Europe: global ambitions, local matters. Journal of Urban Design 9 (3): 335-49.

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