Urban waste reborn as Sorbonne Mark II

September 1, 2000

A new Latin Quarter is rising from urban wasteland in the southeast corner of Paris, with a new Sorbonne for 40,000 students at its centre.

After a decade marked by financial and economic setbacks, and bickering and disputes among various combinations of rival politicians, public authorities and local associations, the ZAC (integrated development zone) Paris-Rive-Gauche is taking shape.

Though much of it is still building sites, derelict land or unfinished roads, its first residents have moved in; shops, businesses and industries are arriving; public gardens have been planted; and schools are opening.

When completed, the E152,450,000 (Pounds 92 million) ZAC, the biggest redevelopment project in Paris since Baron Haussmann transformed the city more than a century ago, will contain about 5,500 dwellings, 900,000m2 of offices and 220,000m2 of shops and commercial agencies. The 130-hectare area on the left bank of the Seine is crossed by the railway track leading to the Gare d'Austerlitz.

Its dominant feature is the BNF, the Francois Mitterrand national library, its four high-rise towers designed to look like open books but resembling an upturned table. This will continue to be the district's chief landmark - new buildings in the zone, each designed by a different architect, are restricted to a maximum of seven storeys.

But the main focus of the so-called Nouveau Quartier Latin will be a vast university centre, dubbed by academics a "New Sorbonne", devoted to science, languages and civilisations. It will consist of the University of Paris-VII, Denis-Diderot, and Langues'O - the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (Inalco).

Paris-VII, a multi-disciplinary university of 28,500 students and nearly 3,000 teachers and researchers, has been lobbying to move for years. Its current home is the shared, overcrowded, asbestos-ridden Jussieu campus, and a number of smaller, scattered sites. In the ZAC, it will occupy the architecturally celebrated Grands Moulins de Paris and Halle aux Farines, former industrial warehouses saved from demolition and now facing radical renovation to install a resource centre, laboratories and lecture halls. The first students should move in by 2003.

The prestigious Langues'O, founded in 1795, teaches 88 African, Asian and Oceanic languages to more than 12,000 students. As well as its posh - but cramped - main address in the rue de Lille, its classes spill over to a dozen other locations in Paris and nearby suburbs. It will occupy 40,000m2 of new premises, which will include a vast resource centre containing more than a million works following amalgamation of several specialist libraries.

The university project of Paris-Rive-Gauche is part of the U3M (University of the Third Millennium) programme launched by former education minister Claude All gre to succeed the ten-year higher education expansion scheme, University 2000.

Under U3M, City Hall - a partner in the ZAC along with the state and the Ile-de-France region - offered up to 200,000m2 of university space in the ZAC.

Paris mayor Jean Tiberi said: "The future university buildings, far from making up a massive, single unit, will be integrated into the town, the neighbourhood and the street. We don't want an isolated campus, but a university neighbourhood in the tradition of the Latin Quarter, with its shops - especially academic bookshops - gardens, quay and riverside. A place created for studying but, more generally, a place for experiencing life - and for living in, with housing for 600 students."

In due course, a total of 4,000 student homes is planned.

Mr Tiberi promised the area would become a centre of culture and leisure, with its artists' residence, movie complex and cycle tracks.

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