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Posts tagged ‘Sounds in the Gare du Nord’

10
Sep

The Changing Soundscape of the Gare du Nord

THE GARE DU NORD railway station in Paris is on the cusp of great change. Over the next few years the physical architecture of this station will be transformed and consequently, so will its sonic architecture.

For many years I have been recording and archiving the sounds of the Gare du Nord. My particular interest lies in investigating how sounds can define, or help to define, a place and how the soundscape of a particular place changes over time. The Gare du Nord is a valuable case study in both these areas.

The first Gare du Nord station was built in 1846 but an increase in traffic meant that a new, bigger station was soon required.

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The original 1846 chemin de fer du nord station

Rebuilding took place under the direction of the German-born French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff with the new station combining the advanced structural use of new materials, notably cast iron, with conservative Beaux-Arts classicism. Hittorff’s Gare du Nord was completed in 1864.

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La “Gare de la Compagnie du chemin de fer du Nord” photographiée vers 1864 par Charles-Henri Plaut

Significant changes to the station were made in 1981 to accommodate RER Line B and then in 1993 to accommodate the TGV and the Eurostar. The last major change was 2001 with a major expansion of the departures hall.

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Gare du Nord TGV Departure Hall in 2017

And now the Gare du Nord is about to undergo further change.

Subject to negotiations due to be concluded by the end of this year, SNCF Gares & Connections and the global real estate company Ceetrus will set up a joint venture to carry out a transformation of the Gare du Nord. Ceetrus, in association with architect Denis Valode (Valode and Pistre architects), will lead a transformation as big as that led by the Hittorff in 1864. The transformation is due to be completed in time for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

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Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord

The transformation will see the station triple in size from 36,000m2 to 110,000 m2. With 700,000 passengers using the station each day, excluding those who use the associated Métro station, the Gare du Nord is already the busiest railway station in Europe. Following the transformation the daily passenger numbers are expected to increase to 800,000 in 2024 and 900,000 in 2030.

The transformation will include a new departure terminal in which the flow of arrivals and departures from the station will be distinct thus improving fluidity and comfort for travellers. A new station facade is proposed on rue du faubourg Saint-Denis with direct access to the departure terminal.

The Eurostar terminal will be expanded to meet the challenge of strengthened customs controls linked to Brexit.

Accessibility will be enhanced with more elevators and escalators. The new station will have 55 lifts and 105 escalators. Station security will be enhanced with more CCTV being installed.

Access to the three metro lines will be improved. The bus station with its 12 bus lines and 7 Noctilian services will be connected directly with the departure terminal, and 1,200 bicycle parking spaces will be available with direct access from the square in front of the station.

Traffic circulation around the station will be redesigned to take account of the redesigned access to the station and also the expected development of new electric mobility solutions.

The transformed station will also include a 2,000 m2 ‘European Academy of Culture’, a concept devised by the writer Olivier Guez, including a 1,600 m2 space to host events and concerts.

There will be 5,500 m2 of co-working space, a nursery, new restaurants and a one-kilometre running track on the station roof.

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Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord

The transformation of the Gare du Nord will clearly change the visual landscape of the station but it will also change its sonic landscape. There are six main line railway stations in Paris, five of which sound very similar. The exception is the current Gare du Nord, which has a very distinctive soundscape. The size of the main departures terminal together with Hittorff’s 19th century iron and glass construction and the cacophony of waiting passengers squeezed between the parked trains and the street outside gives the Gare du Nord a very particular sonic ambience.

This is what the Gare du Nord sounded like in 2011.

Gare du Nord 2011:

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Gare du Nord Departures Hall 2011

Although the major transformation project is not due to start until next year, some improvements to the Gare du Nord are already underway. When I went there last week I found men laying a new stone floor in the main departures hall, which gives us a clue as to how the soundscape of the station will change as the major construction work progresses. The sounds of the gasping trains will have to compete with the cacophony of building work for some considerable time to come.

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Gare du Nord 2018:

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Having recorded the soundscape of the current Gare du Nord many times I shall continue to record and archive the sounds as the station’s transformation takes place. I shall be fascinated to discover the sounds of the new, ultra-modern Gare du Nord when all the work is completed. I will though still go back to my archive from time to time and listen to the sounds of the ‘old’ Gare du Nord; sounds that have been so familiar to me for almost the last twenty years and sounds that are about to disappear.

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Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord

31
Oct

Gare du Nord – A Transformation

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!