Lyon Confluence, on Lyon’s city peninsula in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, is one of the largest and most exciting urban development projects in Europe.
When I lived in Lyon in 2009, the tip of the city peninsula where the Rhône and the Saône rivers meet was a vast building site. I returned to visit last year and stayed in the result: Lyon Confluence, a vibrant centre-city community with great architecture, beautiful landscapes and buzzing waterfront bars and restaurants.
In the 18th century engineers reclaimed the banks of Lyon’s rivers and brought the tip of the Presqu’île to life. Over the next 200 years the area would be home to a colourful array of tenants, including Lyon’s two prisons, the city’s centre of prostitution, slaughterhouses, a huge wholesale market, and of course the busy Port de Lyon-Port Rambaud.
The idea of transforming Lyon’s working centre was raised in 1996, after Port Rambaud ceased activities. The project kicked off in 2003 and is set for completion in 2020.
Lyon Confluence is part of international large-scale reinvention of docklands that invigorates previously sidelined areas of riverside cities like London, Hamburg and Melbourne.
Re-urbanisation in France
So how do you transform the gritty into the gentille?
In Lyon the process involves relocating the wholesale market and prisons, re-routing a major road to make way for a large riverside park, extending the existing tram line and constructing two new footbridges linking the Rhône and the Saône through the heart of Lyon’s newest community.
Part of what makes Lyon Confluence special is its versatility. The newest neighbourhood for the city’s cool and credit enabled (apartments on the Saône and the Place Nautique were Lyon’s most expensive real estate in 2006) is also a business district, has shops and offices, leisure spaces, a university, a museum and more.
Contemporary French Architecture
Lyon Confluence is an opportunity for renowned architects from all over the world to show off their talents in France. One of the most striking structures is the Orange Cube designed by Jakob+MacFarlane.
While some cheese-inclined people like me might be primarily reminded of a giant half chewed block of American cheddar, the building has gained much publicity and interest for its clever and boundary-pushing design.
A driving concept of the project is “not to do away with what is already there but to work with it and revitalise it”.
Old warehouses like La Sucrière (which now houses exhibitions and live music) sit comfortably downriver from new apartment and office blocks. And as you sit and have a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône in the sun at one of the new high-end waterfront restaurants like Docks 40, a remaining port crane frames your view.
Leading French sustainability
Lyon Confluence is officially recognised as a WWF sustainable neighbourhood (the first in France), is listed as an eco-neighbourhood by the French Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development, and last year Greater Lyon and Japanese NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation) joined forces to improve the energy performance in the development.
Close to Vieux Lyon and the modern city centre, Lyon Confluence is the perfect place to experience the meeting of old and new, industry and elegance – and framing it all – the meeting of two great rivers.
References: Andrea Bolitho, France Today: Lyon Confluence Andrew Rosenburg, Arch Daily: The Orange Cube / Jakob + Macfarlane Architects  Annik Bianchini, In the heart of Greater Lyon: Lyon Confluence, a unique urban project at the gateway to Europe
1. Confluence Apartments: Pascal Poggi, Flickr
2. Orange Cube: Robert Fontanet, Flickr
3. La Sucrière: European Creative Cities, Flicker
4. Old and new: Pascal Poggi, Flickr