“We are now on the process of cleaning up the site. This is a brownfield site that was managed byArbed and on which there are hydrocarbons and heavy metals. The first goal of the clean-up is to make sure that the site is suitable for its future use and so in accordance with Luxembourg regulations, we’re going to make sure it can be used for housing, make it somewhere that people can live, so that it can become a sustainable new neighbourhood.”
Estate “We are committed to creating a minimum of 10% low-cost housing and we are in discussions with our partner, the Esch municipal authorities, to see whether or not we can increase this percentage. This is not the only solution to the housing crisis in Luxembourg. With this project, a lot of work has been done on the idea of offering a variety of solutions in order to cover all accommodation needs that people will have throughout their lives.In other words, we’ve got a combination of solutions that mean we will be able to respond to this need. There is accommodation for students; when you get your first job, you will be able to rent an apartment, because we will also be developing a build-to-rent scheme for this project in particular; and then you start earning more you will be able to buy your first apartment.So there will indeed be some low-cost housing, but there will also be accommodation in a range of different sizes, right through to homes for the elderly. There is this whole accommodation pathway following people through their lives, and then there is also a variety of accommodation solutions within the same building as well. We talked about a neighbourhood on different layers. These layers start with ground-floor apartments, which will be in collective dwellings, but which will be designed for individuals, so with a private entrance and a garden.There will be housing on the higher storeys, offering inhabitants the chance to live among the trees, and then there will be apartments on the top floors, where residents will be able to enjoy unobstructed views of the wonderful landscape so that they feel part of it.So our response to this issue of housing is to offer a particularly diverse range of solutions, thus meeting everybody’s different needs.”
You say that you want to respect the history of the site and the existing industrial buildings, which you see as part of the site’s DNA. So can you explain why you have demolished the Keeseminnen, an industrial monument of national and international value and the former Terre Rouge’s most striking structure?
“First of all, I did not demolish the Keeseminnen and secondly, this was made of concrete, which is incredibly difficult to reuse. When we looked at everything from an historical point of view, and looking at the future project, we prioritised keeping the gantries, which should have been demolished, and also the Halle above them, so that we could turn them into a component of the project. I should also say that this story of local heritage began 40 years ago.First of all, I did not demolish the Keeseminnen and secondly, this was made of concrete, which is incredibly difficult to reuse. When we looked at everything from an historical point of view, and looking at the future project, we prioritised keeping the gantries, which should have been demolished, and also the Halle above them, so that we could turn them into a component of the project. Buildings were left behind that were iconic.There were 2 types of building: this concrete one and all the metal structures.The urban aspect of the project, not the heritage dimension, is about working for future generations, in other words, it’s about remembering that the buildings that we have preserved and that we are going to link together, are buildings that will be given a new lease of life, not for the benefit of the last people who worked at the site, but for their grandchildren.In other words, we are working 2 generations into the future, focusing on living heritage and on taking ownership of our heritage. Our approach is not based on preserving things for the sake of memory, and in Uckange we were focusing on the issue of preserving the U4 blast furnace. We could talk about the work that was obviously done at Belval, an exemplary example, or at Völklinger in Saarland or Zollverein in the Ruhr. These buildings were world heritage sites, where the theme is heritage in motion. I believe that we should ask this question in a wider context, in terms of preserving a site, preserving buildings, and incorporating these buildings into a new development.”
In the pictures of the new neighbourhood that we have seen so far, the tower block planned across the street from Rue Barbourg(which you gloss over by referring to it as your “answer to the Belval tower”) has never been shown, and for good reason: this skyscraper destroys the character of the next-door neighbourhood and will have a very negative impact on the quality of life of its residents. How do you justify this? What other explanation is there for this skyscraper if not to sell as much square footage as possible?
“This is obviously not the objective and this is obviously not the case. We are working on distances, we are working on the skyline, we are working on a comprehensive urban solution, and for me the density itself, we weren’t the ones to specify that, it is a reasonable density and it is part of the PAP, it is a classic urban density, but the density does not dictate how it should be implemented. We believe in keeping buildings low, we have a very large number of ground floor +3 storey buildings with a large shared garden at this height of between 12m and 14m above ground level, and this horizontal line counterbalances the elements that are higher up. These higher elements will be 7-storey buildings or so, which we are calling “Émergences”, which will rise up out of this landscape of 4-storey buildings, and then 2 buildings 60m tall, which will be part of this new neighbourhood’s identity, an answer to Belval, it’s a physical situation, that’s how things happen, but above all it’s a way to organise the density. I think that in relation to the surrounding neighbourhood, we have taken every precaution to make sure there is no negative physical or visual impact, in terms of shade, sunlight etc. We are a very long way away from the site.Our job is to create a project for the future, and I think that in that context, when this kind of height is here and there, and always in relation with a lower horizontal layer, it is part of the urban project. I believe that for us, it is absolutely nothing to do with us being developers in inverted commas, it’s nothing to do with the notion of densification. The density has been defined, and we have a number of ways of dealing with it, it’s really got nothing to do with the identity of these different neighbourhoods and this urban arc that is being formed around Esch.”
How will you guarantee a diverse range of architectural styles in this new neighbourhood? Might there be architectural competitions?
“We do want to have a certain amount of architectural diversity. One of the fundamental aspects of the project was that it should be a project specific to Esch, that it shouldn’t be just like any other development in Europe, where they all look the same, and so it’s true that a huge amount of work has already been done on the public spaces, on the Allée de la Culture Industrielle to support architectural projects. In terms of the architecture, there will indeed be certain plots where there will be a competition, so that we can welcome other architects and guarantee this diversity. But alongside that, there will also be workshops organised in partnership with the different architects, both to promote this diversity, but also to ensure consistency across the whole project and the mission entrusted to the people behind the project, Reichen Robert & Associates, Phytolab, WW+, Schroeder & Associates. These architectural projects will be supported, both to guarantee the project as it is presented today and to ensure this architectural diversity.”
Are you planning to incorporate the Parc neighbourhood into your project by creating a pedestrian link (footbridge) for example, over the old railroad line?
“One of the goals of this project is to create links. It’s like a cruise ship, and the goal for the future is to anchor this cruise ship in its surroundings, and to do this, we are planning 2 footbridges. The first one will be a temporary one, to the Hiel neighbourhood, while we develop the BRT line, while we open up the space between the neighbourhoods. Then there will be a second footbridge that we hope will one day lead to the Parc des Étangs, which is opposite RoutLëns. It’s a space that is equivalent to the project as it is, and in some way, for us, the park already exists. There are already these ponds, plants have sprung up there, and that’s incredibly important. So in the same way that we have thought about certain aspects in terms of mobility, we have a Masterplan that is resilient, flexible and adaptable, we are also planning a number of developments around the site that we hope will come to fruition one day.”
You presented the plant Masterplan, but the images look very different and seem to show a very artificial neighbourhood. Do you plan to introduce plants vertically, with more trees, in order to keep the temperature lower in the summer?
“It’s true that some of the pictures of the project mainly show the restored architectural heritage, and then the new buildings, to show how the space is used and the urban aspects of the project. This is not the case for all the pictures, there are some in the central square, right in the heart of the buildings, showing the natural features of the neighbourhood. Of the 11 hectares that make up RoutLëns, we will end up with 3.5 hectares of green space, so about 1/3 of the future neighbourhood will be dedicated to living soil. That’s quite a significant amount, and perhaps it’s easier to see on the plans than in the pictures. And then we’ve got some work to do with the plants, which is structured around 4 components. Bernard Reichen talked a little bit about it, but it’s worth reiterating. The first component, and undoubtedly the most important one, is the soil. The idea is to introduce a forest atmosphere in lots of different parts of the neighbourhood, with mainly local species and trees that will be planted to be quite tall. We will vary the size of the plants, so that we won’t have to wait 15 or 20 years before creating the natural atmosphere we are looking for. The second component is 14 metres up, level with the 4th storey buildings, where there are plant-covered balconies, some of which will be gardens for homes or apartments, where there will be lower-level plants, mainly shrubs of different heights or woodland layers that you see a lot in the upper parts of Ellergronn. The third component is also very important for us. This element is on the tops of the buildings where we are going to reproduce dry grasslands on limestone or red soil, so that it can take all of these plants that grow in shallow soil, which makes brownfield sites so fascinating when it comes to the relocation of plants. And lastly, the fourth component is more about cultivation and the future and experimentation. In other words, it’s about trying to work in particular around the heritage buildings, growing more exotic plants, more botanical collections, to turn the site into a kind of laboratory for future plant species that will grow in this region because of global warming. It’s a really big challenge, but temperatures are rising so much, and so we really need to grow plants to try and keep the temperature down in the town, and we will have to think about the kinds of plants we will need in the future. Beech trees will probably disappear from lots of regions, and this is really important, and we need to think decades ahead for plants and how they are put together.”
What do you mean by including the public in a project like the Lentille Rouge?
“Including the public is part of what we are doing today. On a very pragmatic level, it is just about providing information, that’s the first step. With the RoutLëns project, information is constantly being made available on the website www.routlens.lu, and you really do have all the information that has been provided from the very early stages, that is to say that this site was set up over a year ago. But information is just the beginning.With the RoutLëns project, we are also committed to including the public in the project in a broader sense. That’s why in 2019, as Sandra reminded us, we were able to put on a series of public workshops about the project. At that stage, we didn’t have all the beautiful images and plans that we have today thanks to Mr. Reichen. We were really in the early stages of the project, so for us it was very important to be able to include the entire population ofEsch in the thought processes and intentions behind the project. So thanks to these workshops, we were able to collect lots of information about the expectations of the people of Esch about this project, and all of this information was put together in a report which is available on the website, and ultimately, it is this report about the public consultation that was handed over to Mr. Reichen’s team, and the project that we have presented to you today was based on that. This project is clearly a masterplan at this point, and so this is just one step in a process and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
When will a general plan finally be made available to the public? And is there also a model that we might talk about?
“Indeed, we have this Masterplan today, and obviously it will be made available on our website. A model of the project has been produced. As I explained earlier when I talked about the different phases, we’re going to submit what we call a PAP (partial development plan) by the end of the year, and this PAP will obviously be subject to a public inquiry and so made available to the public. Early next year, there will be an exhibition dedicated to the project with displays explaining the project and this model.”
Who is responsible for deciding whether to preserve and/or demolish the existing industrial buildings? And what expertise/training does this person have?
“The first aspect: what were our obligations? When we came to this site, a classification procedure was underway, which was just focusing on the Magasin TT.IKO, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, the SSMN and the Esch authorities, was keen to take this process further, and to preserve other buildings: the Halle des Turbines, the Halle des Soufflantes, the Poste d’Aiguillage, the wall along Rue d’Audun, which will also be preserved and restored. As a result of the consultation workshops that took place in May 2019, the section with the Möllerei gantries was added to this collection of architecture. And then there is all the work we are doing now with the same authorities, experts have been appointed who specialise in industrial architecture, who are working with us and helping us restore these buildings.”