Gare du Nord

A station of expansion and change

A proposal to restructure the Gare du Nord has led to controversy. The proposed project cost roughly 660 million American dollars (600 million Euro) in the late 2010s. The station is around 400,000 square feet and the plan is to increase it to 1.2 million square feet, which will be able to sustain the 200,000 person increase by 2030. This plan was rejected by well established architects from France, the United States and the United Kingdom. The reasoning behind refusing to take on this massive project was due to the amount of shops that would be added into new space. The 2024 Olympics will be a massive influx of cash flow into the city, besides the boost of money the shops will add, they will also have the passengers be immediately immersed in Paris exiting the train. In spite of all the backlash, the 660 million dollar project is in progress in preparation for the Olympics.

Built in 1865, this train station has been a powerhouse for the 700,000 people it holds at any given time. Jacques Ignace Hittorff, the architect for the building, wanted the building to be beautiful on the exterior, and serve a purpose in the interior. The outside is a Neoclassical style with 23 female statues on the peaks of the building. They represent each country that you can reach using the station. This is aesthetically pleasing, which is key to any Parisian building built during this time. The interior of the building has a dark industrial look to serve the function, which can withstand hundreds of thousands of people coming in every day. There is a clear contrast from the interior versus the exterior, because each sends a particular message: one is for beauty, while the other is for function.

The allure of French buildings is the beauty paired with the function. The Gare du Nord is not particularly known as the most beautiful building in Paris. The plan is not just to beautify the place, but to improve its function due to the increase of people, 700,000 to 900,000. The added size is typical for other stations around Paris, for the added shops for consumers to walk around and shop, making the station more of a mall than solely a train station. The Gare du Nord has been often described as dark and chaotic, because the station is meant to serve the everyday commuter and not the consumers that seek high end stores as they walk off the train. Beautifying this station would embody more of Parisian architecture, because it mixes beauty with function throughout the whole building. With added space means added time for the commuter, in turn the function of the station decreases. Choosing the consumer over the commuter is one the main critiques of the architects.

Paris is a city of uniformity. All of the buildings are beautiful, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. The adjectives to describe the Gare du Nord are of the opposite. The purpose of this station was to be beautiful on the outside and complete function on the inside. The critics of the new project agree that the building's distinct contrast is due to the fact that it is meant to facilitate 700,000 people getting to their destination. Adding shops would purely get in the way of the true purpose. The plan for the Gare du Nord is a battle between the consumer versus the commuter.

I agree with the architects that the purpose of a train station is to serve the large quantities of commuters going in and out of Paris everyday. The Olympics occurring in 2024 is an incentive to beautify the stations that the visitors will be seeing as they get off the train, but the Olympics ends and the commuters stay. The big takeaway is the continuing conflict within Parisian architecture; is there a way to simultaneously benefit both types of people using the site?