The train station of Strasbourg was built in 1883 on the plans of Berliner architect Johann Eduard Jacobsthal on the field of the original station, too small and tiny. Built by the German authorities, in Neo-Renaissance style, the train station is located on the crossroads of international axes Paris-Vienna and Basel-Cologne. The semicircular square in front of the facade of the building was an important point for the choice of this place, near the downtown of Strasbourg. Till 1918, the central hall was decorated with two frescoes: one representing the entrance of Frederick Barbarossa in Haguenau in 1164, the other representing the entrance in Strasbourg of Wilhelm der I. in 1877. It symbolizes the union of the Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. Due to its particular German Neo-Renaissance aspect, the train station and its metallic hall were protected as historical monuments in France (“monuments historiques“).
In 2005 the technology catch the story up. The TGV – Train à Grande Vitesse, the French fast train – will come from Paris to Munich, passing through Strasbourg. To accommodate the growing number of passengers, the train station has to be enlarged.
French architect Jean-François Blassel is in charge of the enlargement and the restoration of the train station. The concept of his design is a drop of water, a large glass hemisphere that covers the facade of the train station and overflows a part of the square in front of it. The glass curved roof allows a vision outside and inside of the train station. Designed with the idea of “développement durable“, this sustainable enlargement has a natural aeration that avoids high temperatures in summer. In winter, although it is very cold in Strasbourg, the temperature under the glass roof is not too unpleasant, explained the architect.
As we see on the upper drawing, the idea was to allow the vision to the old facade of the train station in every point of the semicircular square, known as Place de la Gare.
Nevertheless, we all know that, under sunlight and with distance, the glass becomes as reflective as a mirror. The result is not absolutely unacceptable, as the concept still remains: the drop of water, reflecting the sky. Some people will maybe also find it beautiful, maybe, but we now have no possibility to remark the presence, behind this tiny glass facade, of a very interesting example of a Neo-Renaissance train station. And this is a pity.
Here comes the delicate relationship between old, and new.
The old architecture is part of our patrimony, and it is everyone’s due to respect and preserve it, especially architects. It is a disaster when it falls into ruins, as we recently saw it in Italy with the earthquakes. Only when it is destroyed we notice how it was an important part of our history and our culture.
On the other hand, we cannot live in the past. The technology could bring more comfort, progress, more artistic solutions, more interesting designs, and so on. It is impossible to stop the evolution of the human and of the architecture. In this example, the glass curved roof is a really good solution to accommodate more passengers, in a comfortable place and a great landscape.
Even if the old train station is not destroyed, it is more hardly visible; some tourists for example passing in front of this water drop won’t imagine that behind it stands a great example of Neo-Renaissance architecture, in pink sandstone of the Vosges Mountains. The design of the glass roof is described as Eco-sustainable, in French “développement durable“. But what is really sustainability? Is it just to save energy? It is just to find natural solutions?
Sustainability is not only ecology, or economy; it has also very important social aspects. A building has to be well inserted in the site and in the opinion of the people. The question is: how can we combine the patrimony of the past and the possibilities of today, to draw the architecture of tomorrow?
credit photo: wikipedia, travauxgare strasbourg, spiderjump
by Jean-Baptiste Hurstel