The city of Lille in Northern France aims to develop into a business center rivaling London or Brussels. OMA, the office of Rem Koolhaas, has given form to this ambition in the Euralille master plan. It was a largescale and complex design assignment. The Euralille dossier - part of the OMA archive - has been inventoried and made accessible.
(Published on nai.nl 1 August 2006)
Twenty years ago, OMA donated a number of project dossiers to the NAI. It was an exceptional acquisition, since it was the first time that work on this scale from a young, still practicing architectural firm was incorporated into the collection. The archive has been expanded twice since then, in 1988 and 1994. In 1994, the first foreign projects were acquired, including Euralille. OMA has since managed to complete more and more world-class projects outside the Netherlands. The OMA archive now contains forty-four projects, comprising thousands of sketches, drawings and models.
In 1988, OMA was commissioned to design the master plan for Euralille, which involved the old Lille Flandres train station, as well as the planned Gare TGV Lille Europe station. Lille, an industrial city with a high unemployment rate, saw an opportunity to win a prominent spot on the map of the new Europe. Its strategic location at the junction of TGV lines connecting Paris, London and Brussels would make Lille the crossroads of Europe. The fast TGV links would bring the millions of people residing in these cities closer together and Lille would be the theoretical center of a new superagglomeration.
Lille's Municipal Council anticipated a huge demand for conference and congress halls, offices, hotels, shops and entertainment centers. These large-scale ambitions had to be expressed in the overall plan and in the architecture. Developing a new district of this size is an extremely complex undertaking. Koolhaas wrote in S, M, L, XL about the commission he gained: "The only reason we were not completely paralyzed was that we never believed the project would actually happen. So we approached it by saying: okay, we're shocked. We're surprised. So let's be hyper-shocked, and hypersurprised and take this as a pretext for a Freudian flight forward. This thing is so complicated that we are going to exacerbate the complication to reach incredible levels of complexity. Then, either the project won't happen, or we'll be fired."
Euralille is made up of several elements: the Triangle des Gares, the TGV station, the Espace le Corbusier, a park and the Grand Palais (also known as Congrexpo). The Triangle des Gares, designed by Jean Nouvel, contains shops, offices, homes and a theater. The Gare TGV Lille Europe (by Jean-Marie Duthilleul, architect of the French railway company SNCF), consists of a station with two towers above it: the Tour Credit Lyonnais by Christian de Portzamparc and the Tour WTC by Claude Vasconi. The park is a design by Gilles Clément. Within the overall urban plan, OMA has been responsible for the design of the Grand Palais (1990-1994), a center for congresses, exhibitions and major concerts.
The plan also delineates links to public transportation facilities, the layout of the public spaces, the street layout, parking facilities, the conversion of the périphérique (ring road) into an underpass, and the areas between and bordering the elements of the plan. As a junction of various transportation systems, the project is firstly an organization of the infrastructure and presents itself as such. The existing infrastructure is emphatically visible in what Koolhaas calls the "Piranesian space", an area 'cut out' of the parking garage which reveals the complexity of the infrastructure by simultaneously offering a view of the motorway, over the train station and subway and into the garage. By partially opening up the tunnel tube, the TGV is visible from the city.
The Grand Palais was initially designed as a building that acted as a bridge connecting the new city center with the old urban core. The oval design that was ultimately built does not have this connective function and has less of a relationship to the surrounding area. Yet here as well, the infrastructure has become part of the architecture. This is true not only because traffic can penetrate deep into the building, but especially because the aesthetics of the structure are reminiscent of infrastructural works such as bridges, overpasses and parking garages.
The Euralille file contains a large number of sketches, drawings and correspondence as well as several models. Besides documents by OMA, there are designs drawn by other architects who made their contribution to the urban design plan, such as Jean Nouvel, Christian de Portzamparc and Claude Vasconi. The archive thereby offers outstanding insights into the origins and further elaboration of the master plan. Of particular note are the 'booklets' OMA uses - sets of A3 copies regarding a proposal or design - that nicely illustrate how designs developed. For example, it is easy to see the choices made during the different variants of the oval version of the Grand Palais. Moreover, the complete construction dossier for this project is included in the dossier.
Euralille: The Making of a New City Center: Koolhaas, Nouvel, Portzamparc, Vaconi, Duthilleul. - Basel [etc.]: Birkhäuser, 1996. - 192 pp: illus., photos, floor plans; 30 cm
This book describes the development of the new district and discusses in detail the separate buildings within the master plan. It is illustrated with photographs, drawings and sketches. Architects discuss their work in a series of interviews.