architecture
France's vision of a utopian future comes to life in Lyon
Published 9th July 2015
France's vision of a utopian future comes to life in Lyon
As the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon has been known to whet the appetite.
With over 2,000 years of history and home to breathtaking views, it's also a feast for the eyes.
These days, however, the town regarded by many as France's second city is drawing attention for its avant-garde architectural ambitions.
At the meeting point of the Rhone and Saone -- the city's two rivers -- the aptly named "La Confluence" is Europe's largest regeneration project.
Phase one has already transformed 400,000 square meters (4.3 million sq ft) of former industrial wasteland into a new urban district.
"Before our project one called this district 'behind the rail station' -- and nobody goes behind the rail station," said mayor of Lyon, Gerrard Collomb. "Now people love the district and love walking along the river."
Over $6 billion euros of public and private investment have been spent on transforming this former no-go area into an architectural Mont Blanc.
Boasting eye-popping structures -- like the giant Orange Cube by Jakob & Macfarlane Architects or the spaceship like museum which cost $280 million alone -- La Confluence has also been referred to as the first fully sustainable neighborhood in France.
A couple walks past the Musee des Confluences science centre and anthropology museum in Lyon, France. Credit: JEFF PACHOUD/Getty Images/File
It's flagship apartment building structures, known as Hikari, emphasize the project's green credentials.
Their unique design, advanced solar panels and state-of-the-art cooling systems mean they will produce more energy than they consume.
According to Collomb, however, sustainability is only a portion of the overall goal.
"When we decided to build La Confluence, the idea was to double our city center and have a continuation with the old center city and the new one," he said.
But in a city famed for its cobbled streets and roman architecture, how will these two very different centers co-exist?
The project's director, Pierre Joutard, said marrying the classic Lyon with the modern was always part of the master plan.
"(It was) very important for us to keep the past of the memories because we don't want to do tabula rasa," Joutard said.
He pointed to an old sugar factory which has been modified to emphasize the balance the project seeks.
Yet the style has still to be universally accepted.
A view of the new apartments in the Confluence district of Lyon, France. Credit: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/afp/getty images/file
Delphine Godfroy has been touring people around the old city for over a decade and remains ambivalent towards the development.
"It's not for everyone," Delphine said. "Some people feel like it's a very modern architecture and this is not what (they) like. (They) want to visit the old district."
"I think it will take some time before this really feels as part of the center because you can't build it in one day too have shops and this atmosphere," she added.
And property doesn't come cheap in La Confluence either.
The average price per square meter of new-build residential apartments in La Confluence $6,000, compared to just over $5,000 in the city's nearby financial district.
But of 1,500 newly built apartments in La Confluence, 40% are designated as affordable housing.
For those who can get past the break with Lyon's historic past, La Confluence is a vision of the utopian future come to life.
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