Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.

When an architect and a visual artist join forces to create road infrastructure, the user experience is enhanced.

8 Min Read

Jim Clemes and Nico Thurm have designed an impressive cycle bridge to link Belval to Esch-sur-Alzette, as well as sections of the new Micheville link between France and Luxembourg.

Let’s do a little exercise in imagination together. In a few months, the PC8 cycle path designed by the architect Jim Clemes and the artist Nico Thurm will link Belval to Esch-sur-Alzette, rising in places onto what will become the longest cycle bridge in Europe and incorporating alcoves and small squares for cyclists to rest along the way or to punctuate the walk of pedestrians.

With its bends and gentle curves, it will allow citizens to rediscover a little known part of the territory, which has long been inaccessible because of its industrial character, criss-crossed by the ArcelorMittal railways. The watchword: to combine the functional and the aesthetic or the practical and the beautiful, on a restrictive territory. From this will emerge a signature work.

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.
Nico Thurm

The same duo also had the task of giving architectural and aesthetic coherence to the new Micheville link on the A4 motorway, a colossal project carried out by the National Road Administration. Beyond the tonnes of concrete and the massive character of the undertaking; beyond the engineering necessary for the erection of the two bridges and the digging of the tunnels, Clemes and Thurm sought visual coherence through a principle of verticality, now in the lines of the vertical tubes encircling the tunnels, now in the noise-reducing structure covering the bridge.

The architect and industrial heritage

Originally from Esch-sur-Alzette, Jim Clemes knows this territory really intimately. He has seen it transformed over the years, from an industrial town with the hum of factories to a wasteland, then to a site full of renewal, ending with newly designed university and hi-tech quarters, both vibrant with innovation and bubbling with effervescent residential life.

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.
Nico Thurm and Mélany Albert, civil engineer and architect

Naturally, his firm AJC has developed an expertise in the reinvention of industrial heritage. “Our philosophy is to be as committed as possible to the potential of the site, “ explains Mélany Albert, the civil engineer and architect who oversaw the two projects. The question we ask ourselves at the start of any project is: what story is this site telling us? In the case of Belval and the southern region, there is a whole industrial history that is intrinsic to the place and which must necessarily colour each new project. For us, the architectural gesture is based on these pre-existing outlines and the language is invented from this past so that the final product fits perfectly into the landscape. The architecture that emerges is all the stronger for it.”

Cycling on a reinvented landscape

Cycle path. Suspension viaduct. Bridge between two worlds. These are all ways of describing the work that will rise up from the ground in a few months’ time. “It will be a very emblematic work,” describes Mélany Albert. We are on an area belonging to ArcelorMittal on one side; we have the railway on the other and so we are in between the two, in a space that was once out of bounds for the general public. On a footprint of about two metres wide, cyclists and pedestrians will discover the new shortest and most direct access to Belval.”

The territory is full of constraints, which give rise to as many architectural possibilities. For example, it is criss-crossed with pipes and ducts for the supply of water and electricity. It is dotted with large trees which it was essential to preserve. The route was therefore ingeniously shifted in places, to protect these trees and even to offer them as a viewing point. The suspension bridge means that the existing infrastructure on the ground or underground is not affected. And the whole thing draws voluptuous lines, pleasant to the eye, as well as offering the cyclist a horizon that extends far into France, with, on one side, very green landscapes and, on the other, imposing steelwork infrastructures and, as a focal point, the fine Belval station. A kaleidoscope of landscapes.

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.

The artist at the service of architecture

“The collaboration between Jim Clemes and the artist Nico Thurm has been going on for several years,” explains Mélany Albert. “We work with Nico right from the first drawings: he is the one who produces the first sketches and draws the first outlines. “He has, in his artistic soul, a very accurate instinctive rapport with materials, volumes and proportions, which we can then easily translate into a coherent architectural language.”

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.

Above all, the artist is not as reasonable as the architect. He infuses the projects with a grain of madness that the architect then has to tame and coax out, without losing the originality. His vision is a bit offbeat and bears a strong artistic signature, but remains nevertheless quite anchored in an architect’s eye.

Thus, to develop the architectural concept for the Micheville link, Nico Thurme’s original pencil line was again the impetus for thinking vertically. “In particular, the acoustic devices at the entrance and exits of the tunnels, followed by a noise-reducing structure on the bridges, which is intended to play an aesthetic role as well as to reduce noise pollution,” states Mélany Albert.

The concept of the tunnels is eloquent: vertical tubes which encircle the roadways and then turn into caps on either side of the tunnel. As well as being a strong architectural gesture, these caps enable a smooth transition from the intense light of the funnel to the darkness of the tunnel and then for a nice light gradation at the exit.”

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.

This is how Jim Clemes does architecture: by always evenly combining the aesthetic with the functional. With a concern for coherence and legibility, even in highly fragmented areas.

Architecture at the service of an avant-garde Belval for cycling and driving.

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