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Lyon 1992-2010. Strategies and urban projects for the contemporary city

by Elena Marchigiani

  • Introduction
  • Planning tools
  • The revitalisation of public spaces in the historical centre and in suburban housing districts
  • The enhancement of urban landscape
  • Poles of urban and economic development
  • Places of mobility
  • Bibliography and links


The process of urban renewal which has taken place in Lyon in the last ten years can be assumed as exemplary of a more general transformation in planning instruments occurred in Europe since the eighties. A transformation which can be ascribed both to profound mutations in the context and to the extension of contemporary cities to larger metropolitan areas, and to a more general disciplinary reflection on planning and project tools.

Lyon policy is extremely articulated in scales of action: from the construction of a strategy for the development of the metropolitan area (the Master plan, Schéma directeur), to the arrangement of urban plan and projects for specific parts of the city.

The deep integration of all these levels constitutes a peculiarity of the Lyon case. Each project assumes a particular value because it is part of a more general structure. A structure which re-organises the whole metropolis by drawing a new framework of thematic planning systems: the revitalisation of public spaces in the centre and in suburban housing districts; the enhancement of urban landscape, parks and historical parts of the city; the creation of new poles of urban and economic development; the re-interpretation of the places of mobility and the realisation of a new public transport and road network.

In order to guarantee the functioning of such a complex apparatus of planning instruments and strategies an overall change has taken place inside the administration services. The Communauté urbaine du Grand Lyon and the Agence d’urbanisme have promoted a process of coordination and control of the quality of projects and of monitoring of the results, through the construction of a continuous dialogue with the numerous actors and committees involved in each operation.

Planning tools

The Schéma directeur Lyon 2010 - devised by the Syndacat d’etudes et de programmation de l’agglomération lyonnaise entrusted by the Communauté urbaine du Grand Lyon - was approved in 1992. The Master plan is a strategic document of long term policy for urban, economic and social development of Lyon metropolitan area, a conurbation which includes 71 local authorities.

In order to integrate demands of innovation and renewal and physical structure of the existing city, the Plan builds up a scenario which links single and widespread operations on old and new centralities to a more general strategy based on the strengthening of environmental and infrastructural connections.

Many planning tools are put in charge of the Master plan implementation. In addition to the Plan d’occupation des sols which establishes land uses, some instruments concern only parts of the conurbation: the Plan Lumière deals with the enhancement of nocturnal landscape, the Plan Couleurs and the Zones du protection du patrimoine architectural urbain et paysager with the reinforcement of the identity of historical places. Other instruments concern systems of spaces: the Plan vert focuses on the protection of natural and agricultural areas, the Plan bleu on the organisation of river banks, the Schéma d’aménagement des espaces publics on the improvement of public spaces in central and suburban quarters. Others control strategic and economic functions: the Plan tèchnopole and the Schéma directeur d’urbanisme universitaire deal with the development of sites for the production and the research, the Schéma directeur d’urbanisme commercial with the location of commercial activities, the Plan de déplacements urbains with the reorganisation of public transports, pedestrian and cycle circulation.

The Communauté urbaine du Grand Lyon coordinates all these operations with the collaboration of many other sectorial public and private agencies.

The revitalisation of public spaces in the historical centre and in suburban housing districts

The motto "re-building the city on itself" has been translated in a complex strategy of urban renewal covering all the conurbation. The main purpose was that of improving and extending the quality of open spaces in the historical centre to suburban areas and, doing so, of fighting against the physical and social outcasting of housing districts in the outskirts.

The research of an overall coherence was also witnessed by the frequent use of the same designers (not olny architects, but also landscapers and sculptors) in both situations, and by the construction of a common ‘vocabulary’ for street furniture (designed by Jean Michel Wilmotte and by the Atelier Jourda and Perraudin in 1990).

Moreover, the assumption of public spaces as a new structural framework for the contemporary metropolis has put forward an articulated set of design themes. In the centre the Plan Presqu’île coordinated projects for many historical streets and squares, and promoted the creation of new underground garages to free ground level spaces from cars and give them back to pedestrian use. Meanwhile, the intervention on "socially sensitive areas" in disadvantaged suburban neighbourhoods was taken by the Communauté urbaine du Grand Lyon as a priority action field and as an opportunity of collaboration with national government and individual municipalities, public housing administration bodies and the private sector, inhabitants and designers. From 1994, the Développement social urbain programme has chosen 24 areas. Projects focused both on the internal and external restructuring of dwellings and on the design of open spaces (street plot, lots and properties divisions, spaces inside and between blocks).

The enhancement of urban landscape

An important feature of Lyon renewal policy is the great importance assigned to the enhancement of the rich heritage of parks and historical fabrics still present in the central parts of the city.

The two projects on the opposite banks of the Saone share the same purpose of reinforcing local character as a distinctive sign - a sign of identity - for the whole conurbation.

The projects for the Parc des Hauteurs on the Colline Fourvière draw a system of public parks, linking the historical monuments (Basilica, Cemetery, a roman archeological site) with a new net of pedestrian routes. Along the routes are different types of open spaces: playgrounds, botanical gardens, places where one can sit and rest.

On the other side of the river is the Croix Rousse, a part where the medieval street pattern climbing up the hill is still clearly legible. From the beginning of the nineties the building and urban redevelopment of the area has been governed by a convention between national government and municipality which defines it Zone de protection du patrimoine architectural urbain et paysager. The aim of the project is first to list the singular features of the district with a capillary survey (from the strong integration between its morphological and orographic structure and the visual character of the place, to the types of building elements), then to define an articulated strategy for the conservation of each building and open space.

Poles of urban and economic development

According to the Schéma directeur Lyon 2010, new strategic economic development centres have been localized at the access points to denser parts of the conurbation, along two main lines: the north-south "Arc des fleuves" and the "Axe est-ouest". The purpose was that of giving the new research and "advanced tertiary" poles a role of propulsive element for the renewal of surrounding residential and industrial districts, and for their integration with the metropolitan area through the strengthening of public transport lines and the creation of new commercial and cultural facilities.

Each operation has defined its morphological an functional programme on the base of a careful evaluation of the context, building up a specific interpretation of scientific and technological park.

The Cité Internationale is the core of the northern development site, Porte du Rhône. Between the river banks designed by Michel Corajoud and the nineteenth-century Parc de la Tête d’or, Renzo Piano’s project intends to create a new part of city. Two lines of buildings enclose an internal street: from this linear public space one can enter new offices, a congress centre (another one has been designed by Renzo Piano at the estern end of the Cité), a museum of contemporary art, an international hotel, cinemas and restaurants.

Along the "Arc des fleuves" is also Porte Sud and the new Parc Scientifique de Recherche et d’Einseignement de Gerland (250 ha). The park is the result of many different operations, implemented as Zones d’aménagement concerté-Zac. The general aim of the programme was to sew up the neighbouring consolidated urban districts (where the Ecole Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines and a new underground station are under construction) and some historical buildings inside the area (the Grande Halle and the stadium designed by Tony Garnier at the beginning of the last century) with an international and scientific education complex (Quartier Central with the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon Sciences, Cité Scolaire Internationale on the Rhône) and a new park in the southern part of the area (designed by Michel Corajoud).

The Parc Technologique Paysagé Porte des Alpes (140 ha) is situated along the "Axe est-ouest", in the centre of a new multifunctional development site (commerce, residence, research and industry), between the historical centre and the intermodal node Lyon Satolas. The theme of the project is the creation of a technological parc as a new type of industrial landscape, where open spaces form the structural grid for the whole settlement. At the end and perpendicular to the green axis of the park (the Mail central) is the Boulevard Urbain Est and a system of artificial lakes used for the collection of rain-water but also for sports activities.

Places of mobility

The Schéma directeur has assigned great importance to the reorganisation of the mobility system: the expansion of underground and surface public transport network, the creation of intermodal nodes, the realisation of ring roads and highways to by-pass central areas.

All the existing underground lines have been extended and new stations have been built. A particular attention has been addressed to the expansion of Line D which connects the western suburban districts of La Duchère and Vaise to the new development sites of Porte des Alpes and Lyon Satolas. This project has been assumed as an opportunity to build new residential districts and facilities and to create a system of underground and open air public spaces: each station was the occasion to design squares and to realise parking areas in order to improve the quality of outer districts and to reduce car use inside the densest parts of the city.

The high speed railway station (TGV) Lyon Satolas designed by Santiago Calatrava stands near the airport, in the middle of an area defined by the Schéma directeur as a new economic and urban development zone. A long footbridge connects the airport to the station, whose architecture is closed towards the context but articulated inside to form different types of spaces: the entrance hall on an intermediate level, above the bouncing structure where the pedestrian route from the airport ends, below railway tracks and platforms.

The organisation of a new system of concentric ring roads has been guided by two aims: removing traffic in transit through the centre, assuring fast and easy access to all parts of the metropolitan area. The Rocade Est is the outer highway realised. Since the first studies drawn at the end of the eighties, its layout has been conceived as a structural element for future urban settlements and as a landscaped infrastructure, a parkway deeply integrated with its context.

A similar research of visual and functional dialogue between road and urban landscape is the theme of the project for the Vallée de la Chimie designed by Michel Corajoud and the Atelier Wilmotte. Here the declassing of a stretch of motorway was the occasion to start an overall process of reorganisation of public and private open spaces along the road and inside industrial lots.

Bibliography: images sources

(in chronological order)


• Agence d’urbanisme-Communauté urbaine de Lyon, Lyon métropole. La qualité urbaine au service du développement, Lyon, s.d.

• Le Gran Lyon-Communauté urbaine de Lyon, Lyon Porte des Alpes. Pôle de développement, Lyon, s.d.

• Communauté urbaine de Lyon, Aménagement de Gerland, Lyon, 1984

• "Lione: il Grand Périphérique est", Casabella, n. 553-554, 1989

• Agence d’urbanisme-Communauté urbaine de Lyon, Les grandes lignes du schéma directeur de l’agglomération lyonnaise, Lyon, 1991

• Sepal (Syndacat mixte d’etudes et de la programmation de l’agglomeération lyonnaise), Lyon 2010 - Schéma directeur de l’agglomération lyonnaise - Rapport, Imp. Lips, Lyon-Bron, 1992

• Direction départementale de l’equippement du Rhone, Rocade est de Lyon. Parcours & regards, 1993

• Lucan J., "Les espaces publics du Grand Lyon", Le Moniteur Architecture-AMC, n. 44, 1993

• "Stazione per il TGV. Lyon-Satolas", Domus, n. 763, 1994

• AA.VV., "Dossier Lyon", Techniques&Architecture, n. 419, 1995

• Bédarida M., "Lione: la politica degli spazi pubblici", Casabella, n. 629, 1995

• Boyer C.A., "Cité Internationale, Lione", Domus, n. 784, 1996

• Desvigne & Dalnoky, Il ritorno del paesaggio, Motta, Milano, 1996

• Garnier J., "Grand Lyon la politique de Développement social urbain", Le Moniteur Architecture-AMC, n. 71, 1996

• Albano A., "Aree dismesse e riqualificazione urbana: Il caso della ‘Porta Sud’ a Lione", in P. Falini (a cura di), I territori della riqualificazione urbana, Officina, Roma, 1997

• AA. VV., "Lyon, la stratégie du végétal", supplemento a Le Moniteur Architecture-AMC, n. 89, 1998


Links to interesting web sites

• Communauté urbaine
• Cité Internationale; sul
The site presents the April, September, December issues of the Newsletter de la Cité Internationale

• Cité Internationale palais de congres

• Nouveau Gerland and Porte des Alpes

• SYTRAL (Syndacat mixte des transports pour le Rhône et l’agglomération lyonnaise)