A Parisian mayoral candidate is proposing turning the city’s abandoned subway stations into public space. On February 1, UMP party candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet released renderings of a metro stop revitalized as a pool, a nightclub, a restaurant, a theater, and a futuristic art space.
According to NKM’s, as she’s known, campaign site, there are 11 “fantôme” stations (ghost stations) in Paris, some that were never open, others that have been closed since the 1940s occupation of Paris. “Today, these stations sleep beneath our feet,” the proposal states. She emphasizes that these radical ideas aren’t to change the history of the space, but to “permit the reappropriation, in these new forms, of these unusual places in Paris.”
NKM’s campaign has been all about reappropriation of disused space, and these renderings of the subway stations follow her proposal last September for turning the Petite Ceinture into a park with bicycle paths and community gardens. Completed in 1869, the Petite Ceinture, a train line that circles the city of Paris, was abandoned in the 1930s (made obsolete by the underground metro). Part of it has been turned into a public park, while most of it is completely closed off and left to nature (although plenty of urban explorers have walked along its rusted tracks). Not to be outdone, socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo released her own proposal on February 1, with a plan to also have the Petite Ceinture as a place of urban nature, except hers even features an aquarium underneath one of the bridges.
The renderings from architects Manal Rachdi and Nicolas Laisné focus on the Arsenal station in the fourth arrondissement, showing the curved tile of the ceiling reflecting the water of a pool, being cast in the shadows of dancers, illuminated by the blaring lights of a club, and having some sort of weird orb art hovering above a white space. It’s all very sleek and appealing, if perhaps a little far-reaching.
Paris already has an example of transportation infrastructure successfully turned into a park — the Promenade plantée on an old elevated track opened in 1993 — but underground is much more ambitious. Back in August, Le Parisien reported that Jean-Michel Leblanc of the RATP (which oversees the Parisian metro) critiqued the plans by stating how complicated it would be to create a secure and safe place in the stations, as well as the significant investment.
To say that the stations are abandoned is a little inaccurate, as they are sometimes used for storage and even art. To promote the film Prometheus in 2012, the Saint-Martin station was filled with eerie installations glimpsed by passengers on passing trains, and a similar effect has been achieved in the ghost stations with installations during the Nuit Blanche annual light festival. Yet continued public access is something different for the city, although the vacant underground infrastructure of urban areas is an increasing focus both in Paris and elsewhere as a resource for repurposed space.
In New York — which already has an example of a successfully repurposed station, although it’s not exactly accessible, in Bill Brand’s 1980 “Masstransiscope” zoetrope — the Lowline is well on its way to creating an underground park in unused subterranean space. And in Washington, DC, the Dupont Underground project is aiming to turn an abandoned trolley station space below Dupont Circle into a space for arts and design. Just this week, NKM announced another proposal to have a center for arts and sciences in the old Saint-Vincent de Paul Hospital that closed in 2011. It’s all eye-catching campaign material, but does point at an increasing interest in reclaiming urban space that has languished into abandonment.