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Photograph of the Mont-Blanc bridge in 1999 before the floating walkway was constructed beneath it.


images  (11)



previous state

The Rhône crosses the urban sprawl of Geneva and, throughout its history, has been linked with the vital functions of the city. As a pole of attraction and motor of the economy, the lacustrine and fluvial spaces have been losing ground continually to new urban installations related with defence, navigation, hygiene, hydraulic needs, power generation, tourism and bathing areas, inter alia. The downtown neighbourhoods were built on land reclaimed from the water in several urban planning phases. Nowadays, military buildings, bridges and industrial zones coexist alongside modern wharves, parks, pedestrian thoroughfares, underground car parks, the recent barrage du Seujet and the new hydroelectric power station, in an area with a great deal of commercial and service activity and where a considerable part of the city's cultural facilities are found in a sequence of buildings dating from between the 18th and 20th centuries and which are in very different states of conservation.

The river, crossed by roads and at the very heart of the public transport network, has recently been relieved of part of the traffic that it has hitherto borne, thanks to a fast bypass road that has freed the centre of the city, offering greater accessibility and highlighting the different forms of public transport and pedestrian thoroughfares. Previously, the riverside walkways were practically continuous on the right bank except for the wharf area and the north rotunda of the Mont-Blanc Bridge. In contrast, the footpaths on the left bank were broken up to a high degree and, in particular, precisely in the area between the la Poste and the Forces Motrius wharf where different types of public transport meet at their main points of interconnection.

aim of the intervention

The concept of the Fil du Rhône arose from ten draft considerations drawn up in 1991 with the importance of the fluvial space of the city centre in mind. On the basis of these, the Municipal Contemporary Art Fund defined an overall approach to the riverbanks between Mont-Blanc Bridge and the junction of the Rhône and the Arve rivers, in the Pointe de la Jonction area. In 1994, the City Council, the Municipal Contemporary Art Fund and other municipal services began working together to initiate the project. In 1995, the Municipal Contemporary Art Fund announced its proposals in a first publication that was distributed among to cultural associations, heritage protection groups, residents and businesspeople in the centre of Geneva.

The focus of the project was the architectural and urban redefinition of the riverbank areas by means of the river walk, progressively transforming the river setting into an accessible and agreeable place for pedestrians and cyclists, as a first stage, in keeping with a general future vision for the river. The recovery and improvement of the river banks, with extensions to the existing walks and the creation of new itineraries, was to be achieved by means of an operation that highlighted the value of the whole line of the river with particular attention to public spaces. In order to improve the quality of the urban spaces the bridges and the immediate riverside spaces were to be rehabilitated – with squares, footbridges, wharves, walks – so as to create a constant relationship between the residents and the water. The intervention was to conserve the elements of the architectural and urban heritage bringing out the features of the cityscape that the traffic had hitherto helped to conceal.


The reorganization of traffic according to the new plan was to favour the development of the extant public transport systems in the centre of the downtown area, permitting the introduction of new systems, for example small boats for public transport around the lake and favouring interconnections and changes between the different modes of transport to other parts of the city, giving priority to alternative means of transport since it is envisaged that the main traffic circulation will only cross the area at two points, the Mont-Blanc and Coulouvrenière bridges.

It was necessary to view the work on this project that aimed to improve the riverside areas in terms of stages, in accordance with the economic resources that were available, but without ever losing sight of the concept and vision of the totality. To this effect, ten areas of intervention were defined along the length of the river as the guiding principle of the proposals: the Quai des Bergues, the Place du Rhône, the Pont de la Machine, the Ponts de l'Ile, the Quai Turrentini, the Promenade des Lavandières, Forces Motrices, the Quai du Rhône, Sentier des Saules and the Pointe de la Jonction. With a view to enhancing these ten views of the ten urban enclaves included in the project, local artists also worked on the project from the start of the work, with complementary ideas about the aims of the initiative, in an attempt to ensure that the works of art were not incorporated only after the architectural work was done.

The Bergues wharf, constructed in the 19th century as part of a unitary expansion from one side of the outlet of the lake to the other, opened up public spaces along the riverside for the first time. It was soon to be witness to the progressive disruption that was caused to the string of wharves that had previously linked a whole network of relations between the two banks with squares and port thoroughfares by the construction of the Mont-Blanc bridge and the irruption of automobiles, which occupied civic spaces and displaced pedestrians in such a way that only the facades of the buildings remained of the original character of the extension. In order to recover the character of the wharf-walkway, while also taking into consideration the imperatives of vehicular traffic, it was proposed that the continuity of the footpaths from the river bank to the lake should be re-established by way of constructing a walkway under the Mont-Blanc bridge, which constituted the first obstacle. The different types of users – pedestrians, car drivers, bicycle riders – have their own spaces on the remodelled wharf in keeping with a distribution in lineal strips that create an elementary geometry on the wharf, in the treatment of which, the intervention of an artist aims to bring out the spaces that were historically claimed from the water to permit the circulation of cars. The placement of a grid, alternatively opaque and transparent, over the water delineates the former transition between empty space and full space, where the former alignment was superseded. The diagonal of a rectangle will recall the separation between what is solid and what is liquid, where the latter was artificially conquered, making visible the before and the after of a situation that will subtly flourish once again on the remodelled surface of the wharf.

In the place du Rhône, which for many years was a docks unloading area for the boats on Lake Léman, between the Pont des Bergues and the Place de la Fusterie, the intervention converted the area into a pedestrian space linked with the river and the adjoining square. The project, which is sober in both its formal and material resolution, has transformed the square into a free and diaphanous space for special fairs and city functions. The square, fruit of a competition that was open to groups of architects and artists, houses a sculpture ceded by the Municipal Contemporary Art Fund.

In an extension of the dyke that separates the right and left branches of the Rhône, and links the island to the building of the hydroelectric power station, now converted into a theatre, the Promenade des Lavandières was constructed as one of the new sequences of the riverside walk and part of the access to this new facility. The remodelling of the esplanade-wharf in front of the building has meant the creation of a new square built out over the water and a major landmark in the achievement of new continuities for the walk. Two longitudinal paths have been established on the shorelines of this island to link up with a new footbridge suspended from the old building, now recovered as a new facility and with a bridge over the left-hand branch of the river. As a continuation to this bridge, a stairway leads down to the water. New limestone terraces have been constructed on the island to structure the different levels. Trees planted parallel to the paths reinforce the existing vegetation. The new public footbridge suspended from the façade of the Forces Motrius building between the windows and arches, manifestly opens out the routes, linking the esplanade with the pathway and making it possible for pedestrians to walk at water level. A ramp facilitates access to this new walkway constructed over a metallic structure, while, along its length, running parallel to the building, one may guess at the old turbines of the structure.


The decongestion of the lacustrine and fluvial spaces of the city centre has made it possible to bring to fruition an overall and coherent proposal to convert the water's edge into an area that is more favourable to the pedestrian. The set of projects represented in this work respond extensively and in a unitary fashion to this wish for coherence, although with a decisive and specific intervention in each of the areas that have been linked up again. The projects carried out so far have made it possible to reinsert places that had become residual in terms of the logic of urban routes, integrating them into longitudinal and transversal routes that overlooked and neglected these areas, once again weaving them into the central public spaces, which have also been remodelled, but without standardising their physiognomies. This has meant the achievement of an eminently functional refurbishment of these spaces, which not only acquire new interest, but also new urban functions now that they are restored to the daily lives of the new thoroughfares. The completion of work in the different enclaves will mean the restructuring of the public domain on the river façade of the city, with effective improvements being made in accessibility to the river.

Mònica Oliveres i Guixer, architect

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On the Promenade Saint Jean, the paths invite the walker to enter the water area. © Nathalie Wetzel

technical sheet

CITY: Geneva (177,964 inhabitants)

COUNTRY: Switzerland


COST: 14,479,400 €



Andrey, Vasahely et Barone architectes, Massimo Lopreno, Buri, Morand et Vaucher, architectes, Julien Descombes, Burnier, Robert-Tissot, Ruata architectes


Cêtre et Nusbaumer, Carmen Perrin, Sumi et Babel, Markus Raetz, Tremblet ingénieurs, Ellen Versluiss, Fischer et cie, Mouchet, Dubois, Boissonnard ingénieurs, Nathalie Wetzel