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Lyon was a bit disappointing


September 2023

Lyon is France’s second-largest urban area after Paris, Lyon agglomeration has about 3 million inhabitants. I had seen some pictures of the new developments in the Confluence district, including a big and eye-catching museum, and thought that a route Montpellier – Lyon (a 3 hrs. drive) would be worth the effort. But the trip to Lyon’s modern architecture was a bit disappointing.


In Lyon the districts with modern architecture like La Confluence, Cité International and La Part-Dieu, have a lot of new developments. Alas, they didn’t make me very happy. The tower and shopping centre in La Part-Dieu was almost a non-place, a commercial development you could find anywhere. La Confluence and Cité Internationale are big and impressive architectural complexes, but not very likable.

A major development in the district La Confluence is the Musée de Confluences. It was opened end of 2014. It is big – 11.000 sq. mtrs. of floorspace. The Musée de Confluences is a science centre and anthropology museum, designed by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. The museum brochure says "In addition to the base on which is stands, like a bridge on its piers, it is formed by two distinct elements. Bathed in light, the museum's monumental hall, known as the "Crystal", opens up to the city, welcoming it in. The "Cloud" is home to the permanent exhibition trail and the temporary exhibitions." The museum is well situated with a big park in front and inside the building you have good views of the ‘confluence’ of the rivers Saône en de Rhône. The café and the viewing platform on the 7th floor are very nice spaces with good views of the city and the river. 

The museum is a playground for architecture photographers seeking interesting structures and light. Tourists looking for spectacular architecture may like the museum as well, the museum is huge, different and it stands out.  Some call the building futuristic, others like use the term mastodon. I tend to agree with Huftington post. The enormous entry hall is a complex space with glass, stairs, escalators, balconies, an elevator, etc., not really a welcoming human space. You can have a look yourself, Wall Forth made a video with a discussion of the  Confluence's architecture (click here)

Close to Musée la Confluance you find a business park along the Saône, residential buildings and a modern, well designed shopping centre -the restaurants on the top floor have terraces and nice views of the inner harbour Port de Saône. In the business park you’ll find the often pictured Le Cube Vert (2005) and Le Cube Orange (2010), green and orange cube office buildings, as well as other modern office buildings.

The Cité Internationale is in the North of Lyon, about 6 km. from the Confluence district. Cité Internationale was completed in 1999 and designed by Renzo Piano and Michel Corajoud (landscape). It includes a big congress centre, a casino, an amphitheatre, hotels, offices and restaurants, a big cinema (East side), and apartment buildings with almost 500 apartments (West side). There is art in the public space and a museum of contemporary art. A lot of green surrounds the buildings. The district is situated in between the river Rhône and the nice and lively Parc de la Tête d'Or. The district Cité Internationale offers a very pleasant and efficient environment for visitors to the congress centre, amphitheatre, casino, restaurants, etc. Cité Internationale is not a building, it is a district – and it is incomplete. In the evenings the East side is like a sleepy suburb, and in the West side, a few visitors have a drink and then quickly move to the enormous parkings to go back home. 

The district has a bit an artificial look and feel, despite the fact that there are various functions and many apartment buildings.  What is missing is community facilities. For example, there is not a single shop, not even a small convenience shop (the nearest place for buying some simple groceries and toothpaste means a 20 min. walk, through the park to a petrol station with a small shop). I stayed in Cité Internationale in a hotel at the 6th floor with a view of the inner corridor and it felt a bit like an alien environment. But others may have more appreciation for the concept of Cité Internationale.  

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