Euralille, About the Rem Koolhaas Master Plan

OMA Euralille - The 1994 French Redesign

Before winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000, Rem Koolhaas and his OMA architecture firm won the commission to redevelop a blighted section of Lille in northern France. His Master Plan for Euralille included his own design for Lille Grand Palais, which has become a center of architectural attention.

Euralille

Signage detail, Euralille
Euralille, Master Plan by Rem Koolhaas. Photo ©2015 Mathcrap35 via Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The city of Lille is well-placed at the intersection of London (80 minutes away), Paris (60 minutes away), and Brussels (35 minutes). Government officials in Lille anticipated great things for France's high-speed rail service, the TGV, after the Channel Tunnel's 1994 completion. They hired a visionary architect to realize their urban goals.

The Master Plan for Euralille, the area around the train station, was at the time the largest realized urban planning project for the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Architecture of Reinvention, 1989-1994

Aerial view of Lille, France
Aerial view of Lille, France. Photo in the Public domain by © JÄNNICK Jérémy via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

The one-million-square-meter business, entertainment, and residential complex is grafted onto the small medieval town of Lille, north of Paris. The Koolhaas urban redevelopment Master Plan for Euralille included new hotels, restaurants, and these high-profile buildings:

  • Lille Europe TGV High-Speed Train station by architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul
  • Railway-straddling office buildings, Lille Tower by Christian de Portzamparc and Lilleurope Tower by Claude Vasconi
  • Shopping Mall and multi-use building by Jean Nouvel
  • Lille Grand Palais (Congrexpo), a central theater complex designed by Rem Koolhaas and OMA

Lille Grand Palais, 1990-1994

Entrance to Lille Grand Palais, Designed by Rem Koolhaas
Entrance to Lille Grand Palais, Designed by Rem Koolhaas. Photo by Archigeek via flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Grand Palais, also known as Congrexpo, is the centerpiece for the Koolhaas Master Plan. The 45,000 square meter oval-shaped building combines flexible exhibition spaces, a concert hall, and meeting rooms.

  • Congress: 28 committee rooms
  • Exposition: 18,000 square meters
  • Zenith Arena: seats 4,500; when the adjoining doors open to Expo, thousands more people can be accommodated

Congrexpo Exterior

Detail of Lille Grand Palais, vertical, windowless exterior
Detail of Lille Grand Palais Exterior. Photo by Nam-ho Park via flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (crropped)

One large exterior wall is built of thin corrugated plastic flecked with tiny pieces of aluminum. This surface creates a hard, reflective shell on the outside, but from the interior the wall is translucent.

 

Congrexpo Interior

Interior of Lille Grand Palais, 1994, also known as Congrexpo, in France
Interior of Lille Grand Palais, also known as Congrexpo, in France. Press photo by Hectic Pictures, Pritzkerprize.com, The Hyatt Foundation (cropped)

The building flows with the subtle curves which are a Koolhaas hallmark. The main entry hall has a sharply sloped concrete ceiling. On the exhibition hall ceiling, slim wood slats bows at the center. A staircase to the second floor zigzags upward, while the polished steel side wall slopes inwards, creating a wobbly mirror image of the stairs.

 

Green Architecture

Detail of top exterior of Lille Grand Palais, round holes in the roof above vegetation
Detail of top exterior of Lille Grand Palais, round holes in the roof above vegetation. Photo by forever_carrie_on via flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lille Grand Palais has committed to being 100% "green" since 2008. Not only does the organization strive to incorporate sustainable practices (e.g., eco-friendly gardens), but Congrexpo seeks partnerships with companies and organizations who have similar environmental intents.

1994 Lille, France Rem Koolhaas (OMA) Pritzker Prize Laureate

Exterior of Zenith Arena at Lille Grand Palais, 1994, also known as Congrexpo, in France
Zenith Arena at Lille Grand Palais, also known as Congrexpo, in France. Photo by Archigeek via flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (cropped)

"His major public buildings," critic Paul Goldberger has said of Koolhaas, "are all designs that suggest movement and energy. Their vocabulary is modern, but it is an exuberant modernism, colorful and intense and full of shifting, complex geometries."

Yet the Lille project was highly criticized at the time. Says Koolhaas: "Lille has been shot to ribbons by the French intellectuals. The entire city mafia, I'd say, who call the tune in Paris, have renounced it a hundred per cent. I think that was partly because it has had no intellectual defense."

Sources: "The Architecture of Rem Koolhaas" by Paul Goldberger, Prizker Prize Essay (PDF); Interview, The Critical Landscape by Arie Graafland and Jasper de Haan, 1996 [accessed September 16, 2015]

Lille Grand Palais

Detail of Lille Grand Palais, exterior signage, patrons entering
Detail of Lille Grand Palais in Lille, France. Photo by Mutualité Française via flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

"ALL YOU NEED IS LILLE" shouts the press release, and this historic city has a lot to crow about. Before it became French, Lille was Flemish, Burgundian, and Spanish. Before Eurostar connected the UK to the rest of Europe, this sleepy town was an afterthought of a rail ride. Today, Lille is a destination, with the expected gift shops, tourist paraphernalia, and a super modern concert hall accessible by high-speed rail from three major international cities—London, Paris, and Brussels.

Sources for this article: Press kit, Lille Office of Tourism at http://medias.lilletourism.com/images/info_pages/dp-lille-mail-gb-657.pdf [accessed September 16, 2015] Press Pack 2013/2014, Lille Grand Palais (PDF); Euralille and Congrexpo, Projects, OMA; [accessed September 16, 2015]