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Sowing the Seed of Urban Transformation

Julien De Smedt Architects

Sowing the Seed of Urban Transformation
By Caterina Testa -

Lille’s urban structure tells a story of the many changes, projections and hopes that down the centuries have swept up this city of northern France. Equidistant to Paris, the Flemish region, the port of Calais and London, as early as the Middle Ages Lille was a major node on the trade flows crisscrossing the area. In the 19th century, it was one of France’s industrial centers, becoming a European transport and services hub in the 1990s.

Its proximity to the infrastructure corridor leading to Central Europe led to the development at the end of the 1980s of Euralille, the huge high-speed train station with shops, offices, parking lots, hotels, residences, concert and conference halls. Designed by OMA, it stood for the idea of a Europe physically connected by the Channel Tunnel and institutionally bound together by the Treaty of Maastricht.

Now about twenty years down the road, the massive Euralille complex remains surrounded by urban tracts, which although under transformation, are still in need of the services and physical focal points that enhance the quality of life of the local population, and still lacking the architectures and urban strategies to meet contemporary needs.

Close to Porte de Valenciennes, to the east of the historic center and near the motorway system, several new projects did get underway to develop a new section of the city. However, a central urban core providing a sense of identity was still missing. This led to the decision by the city council to invest in a new building that would be a landmark and hub of the ongoing urban transformation, both in terms of its architecture and position but also for the services offered.

The call for tenders by the city council for the Maison Stéphane Hessel gave unusual specifications: the building had to contain a nursery school for 70 children, a 200-bed youth hostel and an office dedicated to social and economic...

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