Graffiti, broken windows, crumbling masonry: the former Gare MassÃ©na railway station in south-east Paris boasts none of the French capital’s famous charm. Only the overgrown tracks near the station building and a small blue sign marked “SNCF” â€” the French national railway â€” hint at its former use by travellers and trains.
The dilapidated building has become an object of desire for 17 international teams of architects, who reinvented MassÃ©na station on their computer screens as part of the design competition RÃ©inventer Paris. Lebanese-born architect Lina Ghotmeh, who is based in Paris, won over the panel of judges with her vision. In 3 years’ time, a futuristic wooden tower, inspired by the Tower of Babel, is to spiral up into the skies.
Alongside apartments and offices, the railway station and neighbouring tower are to feature an organic farm as well as workshops and laboratories focused on nutrition, all at a cost of 6 million euros.
“Urban agriculture is a real challenge for large cities. It will play an important role in the metropolises of the 21st century,” says Jean-Louis Missika. The Paris urban planning officer is involved in these projects as one of the judges.
The Paris city administration has earmarked 22 areas in the city for such regeneration. For the RÃ©inventer Paris contest, 372 teams of architects submitted project ideas for the sites. The 22 winners can “reinvent” old offices, vacant plots, a hotel, listed buildings and land beside the Paris freeway ring in new uses. The project covers a total area of 150,000 square metres in Paris.
The city treasury is even set to profit: 560 million euros is expected to be raised by the land plots. The project’s budget of around 1.3 billion euros will be shouldered by private investors.
Urban planner Missika says, “The concepts had to be presented with investors and building contractors straight away, to speed up the process.” The judges’ main criterion was innovation. “RÃ©inventer Paris is a laboratory for ideas. Every one of the sites and buildings can be of interest to the architects, to try out everything, to see what works and what doesn’t,” Missika explains.
Sustainability and the environment are core points, “with a strong focus on greening and urban agriculture.” The Le Monde newspaper quoted Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo as saying that “a total of 26,300 square metres will get plantings.”
For Paris, which has very few green areas, this means communal gardens, public vegetable patches, large green areas, plants on roofs and facades and a new wooded area along the freeway ring.
Human interaction is also a big theme. Public squares, indoor community spaces and door-free public offices are designed to enable city people to meet and live together better. Half of the planned 1,341 apartments will be subsidized social housing.
The project is also expected to create around 2,000 extra jobs in the construction industry for 3 years. As such, RÃ©inventer Paris addresses several current problems in the city: unemployment, a lack of space and housing, air pollution, and insufficient greenery.
An extension of the project is already planned for 2017: together with Rouen and Le Havre, RÃ©inventer la Seine is to cover 365 kilometres of river from the capital to the port city. Town planner Missika hopes that it will “allow the river to be better incorporated into the functioning of the cities.”