Jean Nouvel to renovate train hub in heart of Paris

PARIS -- Historic train station gets the Nouvel treatment with major renovations extending through 2020 to improve transport across the rails and to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

PARIS – The historic train station, Gare d’Austerlitz, is on board to be renovated by Jean Nouvel starting this year.  The 600 million euro project, designed to upgrade the station and its surroundings, is projected to continue through 2020.

The Gare d’Austerlitz is one of Paris’s six main train stations.  Originally built in 1840, it serves two metro lines, one Paris regional rail, and multiple national trains to the southwest of France.  With 23 million passengers per year, the SNCF, France’s railway company, hopes that the new train station will not only facilitate transportation via new high speed lines, but also rejuvenate the neighborhood.

Christian Brézet, director of the project spearheaded by the Gares & Connexions, a branch of SNCF in charge of developing 3000 French stations, shared details with SmartPlanet.  During the renovations, traffic will continue across the railways. Buildings dating to the 1860s, classified as historical monuments since 1997, will be preserved and integrated into the new design, conceived by architects Jean Nouvel and Jean-Marie Duthilleul.  For example, 200 million euros will be dedicated to renovating the glass roof in the grand hall where hot air balloons were manufactured during the 1870 siege of Paris.

The current train station is not the easiest to navigate.   Brézet said that a large part of the renovation will be opening up and easing transportation within the station itself.  “The renovation of the station will integrate the development of a system that will increase travelers’ comfort and also aid in finding their way in the station,” he said.  Improved access to train platforms, including new escalators and hallways, should make navigating the often confusing station easier.

Plans also include reorganize the courtyards, creating a grand staircase towards the river, easing access to the adjacent hospital and offering better roads for light traffic including taxis, bikes, and pedestrians.  Construction crews will also destroy several SNCF buildings currently on the site in favor of new office buildings and green spaces.

More than just easing transportation, Nouvel and his team hope to rejuvenate the neighborhood around the train station, which is located on the bank of the Seine.  The adjacent Jardin des Plantes and Natural History Museum are important landmarks but few people are drawn to the streets around the Gare d’Austerlitz.  The renovation will eventually draw new stores, cafés, and businesses into the neighborhood.  “One of the principal objectives of the renovations is based on the idea of creating an Austerlitz quarter, a train station quarter,”  Brézet said.

While the stairway towards Avenue Pierre-Mendès France should be constructed as soon as 2013, many plans for the new station remain long-term.  Gare d’Austerlitz will welcome a new high speed TGV train to Lyon by 2025, making it an even more important transport hub.  Brézet said that SNCF is hoping for 50 million travelers per year by 2030, thanks in part to 15,000 more suburban trains.

Certain plans are still undefined, but  Brézet said that as part of the Grand Paris urban expansion project, the Gare d’Austerlitz could be a connection point for the new line linking the airport at Orly.  “Different propositions are being studied and discussed by the public to consider different ways to connect with the Massy-Orly line, creating a Parisian antenna for this new network,” he said.

Photo: SNCF

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