The riverbanks of the Seine, from Paris all the way to the English Channel, are up for a revamp. The image overhaul is designed to boost the Seine’s attractiveness and usability, as part of the Paris bid to host the Olympics in 2024. The Réinventer la Seine initiative is the brainchild of Paris deputy mayor Jean-Louis Missika, who came up with a programme to reinvent Paris. Both projects fall within the framework of Grand Paris, to extend the French capital beyond its periphery.

Wide-reaching in scale, Réinventer la Seine concerns Paris, Rouen, Le Havre, and their surroundings. Missika has teamed up with Frédéric Sanchez, president of the Rouen-Normandy metropolis created in 2010, and Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, to ensure that the river can be improved with a consistent vision. “It’s about innovating our relationship to the Seine”, says Missika, who mentions that the previous mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, had organised the first meeting with his counterparts in Rouen and Le Havre to discuss this idea some years ago. Missika set about finding a common axis relating to the importance of the Seine and to Paris as a seaport. Areas are to be made more enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists. Tourists will get to experience the Seine on river cruises. Industrial wastelands will become touristic sites for admiring ‘biodiversity’. A total of 41 such sites were identified and, following a call for projects, 174 proposals were sent in by architects, urbanists, event organisers, and landscape architects. A shortlist of 72 projects has been drawn up and juries will vote for the winners in June.

Halle des Salins, 2016 © Jean-Baptiste Gurliat, Mairie de Paris

Indeed, the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants to make reconquering the banks of the Seine a legacy of her admin- istration. Parts of the right bank were pedestrianised last summer in order to reduce pollution, much to the irritation of motorists. In spirit, this was a continuation of Paris Plage, launched by Delanoë, which sees the areas near City Hall turned into a sandy beach during the summer months. Hidalgo has announced that bathing should be made possible again, reigniting an activity that was popular in the 19th century before being banned in 1923. “Our relationship with the Seine will change radically when you can go bathing in the river”, says Missika. The transformation is about prestige, entertainment, leisure, and urban renewal. A hotel and bar on the water, called OFF Paris Seine, positioned between Charles de Gaulle Bridge and the Austerlitz viaduct, was inaugurated last June. This kind of venue, together with the new co-working spaces and student restaurants that have popped up, have inspired Missika to explore ideas that bring the population to the river.

Halle de Rouvray site, adjacent to Parc de La Villette, northeast Paris Metal and carpentry workshops erected in 1936 © Jean-Baptiste Gurliat, Paris City Hall
The proposals for Paris include not just bars and brasseries but a floating swimming pool, a floating market, and a bookshop on a barge. Three new footbridges are to be erected to create urban living spaces. Other sites up for grabs range from an underground passage between the Jardin des Tuileries and the Palais du Louvre, a stretch of water in the Latin Quarter opposite Notre Dame, a former water factory, and industrial areas near the canals. To make this possible, Missika has convinced the river operators to become partners in the project. “One of the reasons why the river hasn’t been a place for strolling is because of the industrial sites”, says Missika. “There are security issues with the concrete factories that mean they have to be cordoned off, and walking around them isn’t romantic. One of the fundamental questions has been the cohabitation of usages: would it be possible to have a cycling path when the areas are considered industrial? The novelty is that the [transport and merchandising] river operators, like Ports de Paris, have entered the game, ending the conflictual situation between the city and the port.”


Chai à vin Wine storage cellar designed by Pierre-Maurice Lefebvre after the Second World War, located near the Port of Rouen Photo © Thomas Boivin MRN
Passerelle aux câbles Photo ® Marc Verhille, Mairie de Paris
For Rouen, Réinventer la Seine is about accelerating its rehabilitation plans. Much of the city – save the gothic cathedral famously depicted by Monet – was bombed during the Second World War, and post-war reconstruction consisted of isolating Rouen from its river, as Sanchez explains. Successive mayors in the 1980s and 1990s sought to ‘reconquer the river’ and thus the metropolis headquarters, designed by French architect Jacques Ferrier, is being constructed along the Seine. One of the Rouen sites due to be transformed is Chai à vin, which Sanchez claims is the largest wine storage cellar to have ever been built in Europe. Designed after WWII by architect Pierre-Maurice Lefebvre, it’s considered an architectural showcase on the Saint-Gervais esplanade. Four proposals have been received, including an artistic one. Another site for reinvention is the unoccupied and damaged Saint-Paul Church and an adjacent training centre. Both buildings date from the 19th century but have since been abandoned. One team would like to turn the church into a cultural venue; another would like to develop it into housing. “It’s a bit difficult at the moment to find financing in France for this kind of cultural project”, says Sanchez, who hopes that Réinventer la Seine will bring Rouen international visibility.


In Le Havre, Réinventer la Seine is more about reinventing the water by transforming several port and maritime areas. “What we’re wishing for is that everything at the interface between the city and the water becomes more urban and pleasant”, says Philippe.

“We have carried out a lot of urban regeneration and we’ve solicited interesting, innovative, and realistic projects.” There are also plans for a ‘sailing stadium’, aligned with the desire for more sporting facilities. Shipping and industrial areas, the docks, canals, and new development zones, have been identified as sites that could be used for business activities and for waterfront housing. One proposal that has been submitted is for floating habitations. “It remains to be established whether this is economically viable and meaningful in the urban space”, Philippe cautions.

Certainly, the ambition of Réinventer la Seine is for the river to flow more confidently through more scenic routes, and to no longer feel embarrassed about its beauty being tarnished by the ugliness of industry. The question, though, is whether all this will help Paris win its Olympic bid or if tears of disappointment will flood the Seine.

This article appeared in DAM61. Order your personal copy.
Chai à vin Wine storage cellar designed by Pierre-Maurice Lefebvre after the Second World War, located near the Port of Rouen Photo © Thomas Boivin MRN
Saint-Paul Church and former apprentice training centre, situated between the foot of Sainte-Catherine’s Hill and the River Seine Photo ©
Henri IV tunnel housing the Georges Pompidou expressway between Sully-Morland and l’Arsenal, providing a large covered ace along the banks of the Seine 240 metres long and 8 metres wide, with a surface area of circa 2,000 square metres ©Marc Verhille, Paris City Hall
Maison des Canaux
Accommodation on the water Historic docks in the Port of Le Havre Photo © AURH