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October 31, 2016

5

Gare du Nord – A Transformation

by soundlandscapes

DESPITE ITS REPUTATION for being stuck in the past, the face of Paris is changing.

A recognition that Paris needs to modernise to become more competitive in the twenty-first century, together with the Greater Paris Project, the plan to create a sustainable and creative metropolis by absorbing the suburbs and redeveloping the city centre, and the city’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games have become a catalyst for change.

A huge amount of money is being invested in public transport with the extension of the tramway network, the extension and upgrading of the Métro system and the introduction of electric and biogas buses.

Both the Ministry of Defence and the Palais de Justice are moving from the city centre into state-of-the-art new buildings on the outskirts of the capital to help stimulate the local economies, the Herzog & de Meuron designed skyscraper, the Tour Triangle, a 180 metre (590 ft) tall glass pyramid in the southwest of the city, has been given the green light and even the ghastly Tour Montparnasse is due for a makeover.

Although Paris is not yet a permanent building site, the pace of change is accelerating as seen by the recent announcement of a €600 million transformation of the busiest railway station in Europe, the Gare du Nord.

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The Gare du Nord is one of six main line railway stations in Paris and with some 2,100 trains carrying 700,000 passengers per day, the station is not only the busiest in Europe, it’s the third busiest in the world.

Despite being rather scruffy and certainly in need of a revamp, the current Gare du Nord is special for me not because of the number of passengers who pass through it but because it is the only Parisian railway station with a distinctive soundscape. It is a perfect example of a place being defined by its sounds.

I went to the Gare du Nord the other day to capture more sounds for my archive before the station’s transformation changes the soundscape completely.

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Inside the Gare du Nord; October 2016:

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The transformation of the Gare du Nord will take place in two phases: the first has already begun and is due to be completed in 2019 and the second is scheduled from 2019 to 2023 – just in time for the 2024 Olympic Games – should the Paris bid be successful!

The Gare du Nord currently links Paris to London, Brussels, Amsterdam, the northern suburbs and Charles de Gaulle airport as well providing RER and Métro lines that cross the city.

The plans, designed by the architects Wilmotte & Associés, call for a new arrivals terminal exiting in Rue de Dunkerque, the current main entrance where passengers enter and leave the station, a new departures terminal entered from Rue de Maubeuge, where the taxi rank currently is, a Pôle échange Francilien for trains to the suburbs, a Pôle échange National for main line SNCF trains and a new €80 million Eurostar Terminal for which work is already underway.

A 160 metre-long, 60-metre wide walkway above the tracks will lead passengers to their platforms and the whole area around the station will be pedestrianised.

These images from Willmotte & Associés show us what we can expect:

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As the visual landscape of the city changes so does its sound landscape and as an archivist of the contemporary Parisian soundscape I am striving to record and archive these changes.

Of course, it doesn’t only require an architectural transformation to change the soundscape of the Gare du Nord. Over the last seventeen years, I’ve witnessed the sounds of breathless passengers carrying suitcases give way to the rumble of wheeled luggage bags and where once the sounds of the trains were complimented only by the train announcements, today it is the repetitive security announcements that dominate – an example of sounds not only reflecting a change of lifestyle but also a change to the very fabric of our society.

Will I mourn the loss of the current distinctive soundscape of the Gare du Nord? Yes, of course, but I also look forward to the new, more passenger friendly terminus even with what I suspect will be its less distinctive soundscape.

I will record the sounds of the Gare du Nord both during and after its transformation content in the knowledge that the distinctive sounds of the station that so many of us knew before the work began will be preserved in my archive for future generations to explore, to study and to enjoy.

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The Gare du Nord today – but not for much longer!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Richard Ewen
    Oct 31 2016

    From my first foray into the Ile de France by train from Paris in 1992, that woman’s voice announcing the train arrivals and departures and the hiss of air from the arriving trains has fed my wanderlust. Thank you for bringing me these sounds today as I begin my Monday work and reminding me of the fabulous places I have visited in France by train.

    Reply
    • Nov 1 2016

      Thank you, Richard.
      I’m pleased these sounds conjure up happy memories for you. The soundscape of the ‘new’ Gare du Nord will probably be very different to that of today and I should think, unlikely to be as memorable. But they will reflect the new station and its new ambience so I guess we’ll have to get used to them.

      Reply
  2. hmunro
    Nov 1 2016

    As I listened to your recording I felt a bit daft about mourning a change that hasn’t even taken place yet. And then I got to the end of your narrative: “I’ve witnessed the sounds of breathless passengers carrying suitcases give way to the rumble of wheeled luggage bags and where once the sounds of the trains were complimented only by the train announcements, today it is the repetitive security announcements that dominate – an example of sounds not only reflecting a change of lifestyle but also a change to the very fabric of our society.” So beautifully said! As Paris — and society — evolve at an ever-faster pace, more than ever I’m glad you’re there to capture these sounds and preserve them for future generations.

    Reply
    • Nov 1 2016

      Thank you, Heather,
      Ah, yes … suitcases! I guess only someone as ancient as me can remember the joys of having to carry suitcases. Not something I look back on with great relish.
      The point I was making is that sounds do reflect society and the changes to society. The problem is that we tend to take them for granted; we seldom stop to listen acutely to the sounds around us and so we miss the tales they are telling us.
      Recording the Gare du Nord during its transformation is a great opportunity to record history in the making – a classic Parisian soundscape giving way to more homogenous sounds.

      Reply
      • hmunro
        Nov 1 2016

        I’m old enough to remember the joys of schlepping suitcases across entire airports as well! Now I can’t imagine how we got by without wheels, actually.

        I do very much look forward to following the transformation of the Gare du Nord through whatever recordings you choose to post here. As you say: history in the making.

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