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A competition — revamping the Seine river-banks

In his 3rd year of the UTC-HUTECH (human­i­ties and tech­nol­o­gy major), Alexan­dre Mur­er took part in a com­pe­ti­tion organ­ised by Ergapo­lis (an insti­tute for urban­ism stud­ies). The aim assigned was to imag­ine new uses for three Seine riv­er sites cur­rent­ly aban­doned by the locals: a for­mer agri­cul­tur­al plain at Chanteloup-les-Vignes near Paris and the Seine riv­er-banks near Rouen. With his team, bap­tized ‘Seino­gra­phie’, Alexan­dre came first among the com­pe­ti­tion lau­re­ates. Here is a ‘recap’ on a high­ly enrich­ing expe­ri­ence, to say the least. 

What were your proposals to identify new functions for these unused locations? 

“At the Chanteloup site, soils have been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with heavy met­als, due to the pre­vi­ous local indus­tri­al activ­i­ties. What we pro­posed is to sow non-food­stuff crops that in fact soak up the pol­lu­tants and at the same time pro­duce eco-mate­ri­als that can be used in con­struc­tion work. The gen­er­al eco­park looks would change each year with crop rota­tion and the soil qual­i­ty would be pre­served. For the City of Rouen, we chose to pro­pose improve­ments to some stretch­es of the Seine river­banks cur­rent­ly occu­pied by indus­tri­al activ­i­ties and to an aban­doned rail­road mar­shalling yard. We sug­gest­ed that stor­age spaces for logis­tics could be reor­gan­ised in a con­cer­ta­tion with the indus­tri­al­ists involved, to free space for a bike track. The asphalt cov­ered built-up banks which are not very appeal­ing to strollers, bik­ers and tourists would become attrac­tive again. As far as the mar­shalling yard was con­cerned, we imag­ined an evolv­ing sce­nario. By year 2050, this site might accom­mo­date a sta­tion on the pur­port­ed Paris-Nor­mandy high speed train line between Le Havre and Rois­sy-Charles-de-Gaulle air­port just north of Paris. How­ev­er, as this plan might not come to be, our project”, says Alexan­dre, “has a num­ber of vari­a­tion sce­nar­ios, depend­ing on whether the Gov­ern­ment goes ahead with the HS train-line or not”. 

What did the Jury like in your proposals?

“What we did was to devise an orig­i­nal approach we called “Land­scape cul­ture”. Our objec­tive was to incor­po­rate the rich­ness of local, nat­ur­al her­itage and the his­to­ry of this riv­er Seine to go beyond the clas­sic oppo­si­tion of urban areas and coun­try­side. The solu­tions we iden­ti­fied, are aimed at pre­serv­ing a con­tin­u­um between built-up areas and open land­scapes, between the past and the future. Up till now, urban­ists have tend­ed to pro­pose com­plete­ly new reha­bil­i­ta­tion plans ex nihi­lo. In our project we tried to make max­i­mum use of what already exists — to min­imise costs- but also to com­bine local his­to­ry and accept­abil­i­ty by the locals. We also insist­ed that there be a con­cer­ta­tion, with the var­i­ous actors involved. In the Chanteloup plain there is even some ille­gal squat­ter occu­pa­tion of cer­tain patch­es – com­plex sit­u­a­tions like this can only be resolved, we feel, through dialogue”. 

How were the team members chosen?

“There were three teams, each with 9 stu­dents from each part­ner school. The spe­cial­ties rep­re­sent­ed were high­ly diverse. Our team had a stu­dents in archi­tec­ture, an urban­ist, a soci­ol­o­gist, a land­scape plan­ner and two were engi­neer­ing stu­dents. In order to see these mem­bers work well togeth­er, we adopt­ed a trans­verse approach for each site. The soci­ol­o­gist and the land­scape plan­ner has already a rich pro­fes­sion­al back­ground. I learned a lot from col­lab­o­rat­ing with them”. 

As one of the team engineers, what was your personal contribution to the project?

“At UTC, we learn how to work in a ‘project mode’ so I made good use of my method­olog­i­cal knowl­edge to have us progress faster, col­lec­tive­ly. For the pur­pose of mak­ing the group work more effi­cient­ly, I set up some on-line col­lab­o­ra­tive tools, made the meet­ing sched­ul­ing for­mal with sys­tem­at­ic agen­das and with minute-writing. 

The UTC-GSU (urban sys­tem engi­neer­ing) allows to have a very wide, pluridis­ci­pli­nary, vision of urban plan­ning issues and that led me to sit­u­ate the future of these three sites in a larg­er region­al and nation­al frame­work. For instance, it appeared impor­tant that our pro­pos­als take into account the majors evo­lu­tions of trans­port infra­struc­tures. With the recent con­cept of a Greater Paris, rail­roads and rivers/canals will under­go major changes. We tried to imag­ine a future for these sites where our ideas would prove coher­ent with the pur­port­ed glob­al evolutions”. 

Le magazine

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