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Gare TGV de Liège-Guillemins
Liège-Guillemins TGV Station
Santiago Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava Gare TGV de Liège-Guillemins The city of Liège is now a major node in the European high-speed rail network, which links England, France, Belgium, and Germany. When the city’s existing station had to be replaced, as unsuitable for the demands of high-speed rail travel, Euro Liège TGV issued a request for proposals from European architects. Santiago Calatrava received the commission to design the new Liège-Guillemins station, largely because of his vast experience in the field, in projects such as the Lyon-Satolas air-rail link and the Oriente station in Lisbon.

Calatrava conceived the station as a link between two distinct areas of the city of Liège, which previously had been separated by the railroad tracks. On the north side of the site is a rundown urban area, laid out in a typical 19th century scheme. On the south side, on the slopes of the Cointe Hill, is a less dense, landscaped residential area. Calatrava’s design bridges these two areas with a 200 m (656 ft) passenger terminal, built symmetrically about a northwest-southeast axis. The arched roof of the terminal building extends over the five platforms for another 145 m (476 ft).

The station is three levels high on the urban (north) side, stacking an access footbridge and a level of rail platforms. At the level of the Place de la Gare (under the platform), a strip of commercial units helps to reinforce the streetscape. These units include the Passenger Hall on the main axis, with the ticketing area on the left and a bar-restaurant on the right. On the hill (south) side are five levels: three levels of parking, a vehicular access deck linked with the access footbridge, and a raised pedestrian walkway.

Transparency is achieved by means of the monumental vault, constructed of glass and steel, which allows for a sense of interpenetration between the station and the city. The pedestrian bridges and a walkway under the tracks allow for fluid communication between the two sides of the station. Particular attention is paid to the architectural detailing of these transitional spaces.

The project has no facade in the traditional sense, since the interaction between interior and exterior is seamless. The monumental roof becomes, in effect, the project’s facade. To an observer on the hill, the roof reveals something of the inner organization of the station. To an observer within the station, the structural arches of the roof frame the views to the outside. From any vantage point, the sensation of transparency prevails.

Because the metal frame of the station must be put in place without disrupting train service, a technique normally employed in bridge construction is being used. The principal frames are assembled in an area away from the trains, located at the proposed Place de la Gare. At night, the frames are pushed in groups of six onto the principal supports. Once the principal roofs are in place, the two canopies can be assembled in position and glazed.
Santiago Calatrava Gare TGV de Liège-Guillemins My intention from the outset has been to create a highly modern 21st century integrated Transportation facility that responds to its position at the foot of the Cointe Hills and from a belief that it must act as a catalyst for regeneration of the Guillemins quarter.

This portion of the City of Liege has sadly degraded due to being blocked in on all sides by railway tracks, a highway to Brussels and an expressway that cuts the link to the Meuse river banks. Its natural quality has been lost and replaced with a feeling of insecurity. The area directly in front of the Station is the site of asbestos ridden blocks and surface car parking erected in the 1960’s to house the “Citê Administrative de Finances” . These will give way to an urban plaza linking the Station back to the Meuse providing a focal point for renewal of the quarter as a whole.

The global orientation of the Station is prescribed by the railway lines but this provided a spur to generate a perpendicular axis along the new “Avenue de la Liberté” thrusting out toward the Meuse River. My sincere hope is that the new station and this new axis act together to create a project on an urban scale that the will lead to a regeneration of the entire quarter and act as an open invitation to the City of Liege to reconnect to the Meuse River.

My goal was to create a building that reflects the new stations potential significance as a high speed inter-urban link between Europe’s cities. The new rail links provide 20 minute travel times to Aachen, Cologne and Brussels while Frankfurt, Paris, London and the Southern portions of Europe are only a few hours away.

I decided that the station should not only be a transport hub but also a gateway to Liege itself. This idea provoked the development of the vaulted roof. I saw this as working in two distinct ways. When viewed from within the station (by passengers arriving by train) the vaulted roof and canopies form a balcony on a grand scale framing the City of Liege. For departing passengers arriving to the plaza the vision is inverted to frame the station itself and the Cointe hills beyond.

If this was to be achieved the station would have to be as transparent as possible. I imagined a building without facades with a soaring roof above offering protection from the elements (particularly the ever present rain of the Belgian Winter). This could maintain the views through and of the station. The vaulted shape was a natural development of this vision while the soft (perhaps feminine) undulating curve of the roof was selected to mimic the graceful rise and fall of the Cointe hills beyond.

Santiago Calatrava Gare TGV de Liège-Guillemins I felt that there was no better way to celebrate the technological achievement of the TGV trains than to expose the working platforms and the dynamism of the moving ensemble of passengers and trains. With such levels of service to such varied destinations I was acutely aware of the danger that a new station could become a disorientating labyrinth of interconnections. Every station requires space for ticketing, waiting rooms, retail facilities etc. that must link directly with the trains. I chose to combine all these spaces in a zone below the platforms, “the Galleria”. To avoid this space having the feel of an underpass I filtered daylight through from above using glass block paving cast into the platforms above to convey the abundant natural light down through from the glazed roof. The use of natural daylight to create a feeling of wellbeing throughout all the spaces of the project is a recurring theme.

The glazed roof (tinted slightly to provide protection from the harshest rays) means that no additional artificial lighting is required during the day to the naturally ventilated space below. This ecological sensitivity is reflected in the choice of local materials, the specification of recycled or recyclable materials and ordering the replanting of the sections of the hills touched by the project. All thought through with a conscious notion to reduce the Carbon footprint of the project.

The station is arranged around a number of levels with the generous proportions of the Galleria space being mirrored in the wide walkways that provide the primary links across the station. These routes enable passengers to reach the covered parking facilities, as well as provide a quick and easy route for residents of the Cointe quarter to pass through the station and reach the platforms. I have found that the generous, well lit spaces that are created allow passengers to orientate themselves with great ease and that significant signage is no longer required. Guillemins Station is a true multi-modal transport hub with Covered parking for 800 cars (with 1200 more spaces to follow) while the regions buses serve the front and rear of the station. A drop off zone is provided to allow taxis and private vehicles to enter and exit the station environs with a minimum of fuss. The overall dimensions of the Hall and the side wings was based on the practical considerations of the length of the trains serving the station with the more standard trains fitting in to the dimensions of the main hall. Oversized trains can be accommodated using the wing extensions as ancillary sections connecting back via travelators to the center.

The primary materials used to create the station are concrete (both precast and cast in situ) and steel (used for the 180m span ribbed shell-like roof). The station make as much use as possible of exposed structural finishes while “bluestone” (used historically throughout the region) has been selected for use in the floor paving, the cobbles of the plaza and feature elements such as the benches.

Perhaps the greatest, but unseen, achievement in constructing this station was that the station was erected in multiple small phases over an extended period of time allowing the station to remain open throughout. Indeed only short overnight closures were required to move 5-rib-wide segments of the roof over the working platforms section by section. We have delivered a most Modern Station into the heart of a City creating a rightly prominent and vital link for Liege with the rest of Europe. I have no doubt that the quarter in which it sits and the City as a whole will benefit from its completion.
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Belgium [Belgique/België]
Wallonia [Wallonie]
Place des Guillemins, rue Varin
Transport buildings and structures
Railway stations
2002 - 2009
  Un homme à la hauteur [Up for Love]
Directed by
Laurent Tirard
Year of production
Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cédric Kahn, Manoëlle Gaillard, César Domboy, Stéphanie Papanian
Building's role
Un homme à la hauteur, Santiago Calatrava, Liège-Guillemins, Gare TGV Station
Panasonic 4K
Building's role
Margot Guislain, "Nouvelles gares en Europe / New rail stations n Europe", Moniteur Architecture AMC 214, avril/april 2012, pp. 65-75
"Guillemins, Liege", Moniteur Architecture AMC 214, avril/april 2012, p. 70 (65-75)
Santiago calatrava Liege-Guillemins TGV railway stationJosephine Minutillo, "Liege-Guillemins TGV railway station, Liege, Belgium. Santiago Calatrava", Architectural Record 3/2010, march 2010 [Transit Takes Off. Designs for Rail, Air, and Bus], pp. 87-91
Douglas Murphy, "With biomimicry...", Icon 79, january 2010,p. 28
Eleonora Capelli, "L'Europa va in carrozza/Europe by Train", Ottagono 167, febbraio/february 2004, p. 85 (70-87)
Cristiana Mazzoni, Stazioni. Architetture 1990-2010, Federico Motta Editore, 2001, pp. 258-261 (256-265)
SNCB Holding, Infrabel and Euro Liège TGV
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