MVRDV Creates “Evaporating Elevations” for Lyon’s Famous Retail Hub

Pat Finn Pat Finn

The mayor of Lyon recently unveiled plans for a massive renovation of Part-Dieu, an iconic shopping center located in the center of the French city. Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV will carry out the transformation, which involves the construction of a massive, elevated public garden and aims to seamlessly blend the shopping center with the urban fabric of downtown Lyon. The renovation will include additions on each side of the mall, branching out from the original building in a series of vast terraces.

The expansive addition creates room for the rooftop garden, which the public can access directly from the street via multiple staircases and covered escalators. The lower levels of the new complex will be used primarily for retail, while the upper levels will include restaurants, parks and a cinema. Overall, the new complex will include an additional 344,400 square feet (32,000 square meters) of available retail space.

MVRDV plans to refashion the façade of the building with a pixelated veil that evokes the original, iconic design of interwoven rectangular tiles. However, the familiar design will be rearranged in such a way as to appear to “evaporate” when reaching the glass façades of the street-level shops.

The architects understand this evaporation design to be “a physical and symbolic gesture to the new opening up of the shopping center.” Throughout the building, this same diminishing pattern will frame glass openings, providing views of the city’s best-known landmarks, including the Metallic tower of Fourvière and the Basilica of Notre-Dame.

The stepped volume of the new Part-Dieu meets a pressing need for more public spaces in Lyon. “The terraces turn the vast roofs of the shopping center into open, green space in which the public can meet and relax — a quality that is currently missing in this area,” explains MVRDV cofounder Winy Maas. “By rearranging the program, we create an urban platform that is somewhere between tranquil park and vibrant market square, recreating an atmosphere inspired by the Lyon riverside.”

Restaurants as well as the cinema will be directly accessible from these outdoor terraces, which also link up to the public library. Where there was once a standalone shopping center, Lyon will now have a multitiered, mixed-use complex, seamlessly integrated into the life and movement of the city.

“The redevelopment of the Part-Dieu commercial center is an opening act towards the city,” says Maas. “The formerly enclosed and defensive block is peeled open and thus becomes a place for the public to inhabit. It becomes part of the city.”

Pat Finn Author: Pat Finn
Pat Finn is a high school English teacher and a freelance writer on art, architecture, and film. He believes, with Orwell, that "good prose is like a windowpane," but his study of architecture has shown him that a window is only as good as the landscape it looks out on. Pat is based in the New York metro area.
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