23. May 2016

Innovative solution in Rue Watt in Paris/F.

Graphics: Sylvain Dubuisson
Photos: Emile Dubuisson

For a long time underpasses and “light sculptures” were not naturally compatible. But when long tunnels are expected to serve pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists, sculptures can help to separate and illuminate.

Rue Watt (Watt Street) is a 150-metre-long underpass for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles below the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris (Paris Austerlitz station) in the 13th arrondissement. Built in 1863, it gradually lost its picturesque appearance over the years before the mixedeconomy society SEMAPA ran a design competition to initiate its revitalisation in the form of a safe and attractive underground space. The winning team comprised urban architects Bruno Fortier, Jean-Thierry Bloch and Fernando Vega-Sanchez, architect and designer Sylvain Dubuisson, and the lighting design practice Light Cibles.

The lighting of rue Watt project was complex since it had to adhere to the technical and security constraints for a tunnel. One side of the underpass is lit using dimmable lamps to meet the functional requirements to allow the illuminance to be adjusted depending on the time of day. On entering a tunnel space people feel they are delving into a black hole, only to be blinded by the glare of daylight as they leave.

The other side of the underpass has received “light sculptures” designed by Light Cibles specifically for the project. The light sculptures in the form of street lanterns encased in twirling metal bands are positioned along the pedestrian path. The twirls are calculated with mathematic precision to ensure passers-by are not disturbed by glare. The luminaires mounted in the upper section of the columns are focussed downwards to trace shadows of the interlaced metal bands on the ground. The luminous columns are spaced rhythmically and apparently randomly along the path, capturing the spirit of rue Watt and the cinematographic image that it inspires.

This underpass is unique in that it features the unusual charm of the interplay of contrasts and patterns of light and shadow, coupled with railway sounds and relative emptiness. The atmosphere of magic and poetry encourages people to use the underpass and therefore generates the perception of safety.

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