History of Kirchberg

Urban vision and development

 

Until the end of the 1960s, the plateau to the north-east of Luxembourg City was undeveloped. With the creation of the precursor organisations of the European Union, its development took off.

The Kirchberg Plateau was originally an agricultural area. The “Plateau” is formed by the deep encircling valleys which create this unique topography. This natural barrier separates it from the city centre which is only half a kilometre away, as the crow flies.

In 1952, Luxembourg became the headquarters of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Later, the governing bodies of the ECSC, the European Economic Community and Euratom, merged to form the European Commission which brought further institutions to Luxembourg. The Luxembourg state provided office space in the historic heart of the city and in the station district but the demand rapidly outstripped the available space.

It was at this point that the destiny of the Kirchberg Plateau changed. The state acquired 365 hectares of the Plateau in 1961 and introduced a legal statute which created the “Fonds d’Urbanisation et d’Aménagement du Plateau de Kirchberg“ (commonly known as Fonds Kirchberg), the public body charged with the urban development of the third and newest area of the capital. 

The first mission of the Fund Kirchberg: building a bridge

The foundation stone of the project was the construction of the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge in 1963, based on plans drawn up by the German architect Egon Jux (1927-2008). It is also called “Red Bridge” because of its vermillion hue. The firmly modernist work of metallic art is today a classic of the genre. It straddles the Alzette valley to link the Plateau with the city centre. With the planned construction of a tramway right across Luxembourg’s capital city, the bridge was widened and equipped with a new parapet designed by the engineeringbureau Laurent Ney & Partners.

The early town-planning in Kirchberg was purely functional. The road infrastructure was an expressway with two intersections providing access to secondary roads serving the new buildings. The European Institutions were established at the approach to the bridge at the western end of the Plateau, with the buildings centred on their plots of land.

Later, the “Foires Internationales de Luxembourg” (now Luxexpo The Box) and a residential district were built at the eastern end of the Plateau, while an Olympicsize swimming pool was built at the Plateau’s centre.

The beginning of the 1990s saw the head offices of several banks being set up in Kirchberg. These were mainly German banks at first and they were built at the opposite end from the European Institutions, the eastern end of the Plateau, with good access to roads and international links such as the motorway and Findel airport. This choice by the banks led the Fonds to consider the issue of building density on the Plateau.

Towards a densification of the urban fabric

To avoid the construction of buildings without an urban plan, studies by the German town planning architect Jochem Jourdan, and by the Catalan town planning architect Ricardo Bofill were commissioned. The latter’s plan was, in fact, chosen for the Place de l’Europe, which now forms the European District South. In 1985, the Fonds commissioned a third study for the development of the Kirchberg from a working party composed of the Luxembourg architects Christian Bauer, Isabelle Van Driessche and Félix Thyes.

They were later supported by a multidisciplinary team comprising the Frankfurt architect and town planner Jochem Jourdan (Jourdan + Müller PAS), the Munich landscape architect Peter Latz and the Münster urban art specialist Kasper König. This team fine-tuned the different aspects of the urbanisation project – reorientation of the road infrastructure, structuring the building density in regular blocks and with street-frontage façades, juxtaposition of different areas of urban life, ecological measures, urban art – and all this in collaboration with the Fonds’ management committee.

In 1991, the Fonds Kirchberg adopted new guidelines which evolved from these considerations and began the changes which are the basis of the present urban development. Following the construction of the eastern motorway bypass around Luxembourg, the expressway (previously an exit road from the city) has been transformed into a city boulevard with lightcontrolled intersections replacing the former motorway-style junctions now raised to one level.

A new era of gentle mobility

With the arrival of the tram in 2017, Avenue John F. Kennedy, crossing the Plateau along a 3.5 km long east-west axis, saw its look change for good. Almost two thirds of its width of 62 metres is now dedicated to public transport and active mobility – with a view to returning the public space to pedestrians and cyclists.

The indigenous trees planted along the edge of the street contribute to the greenery of the former roadway, which is gradually being transformed into an urban avenue as more and more buildings are built on the street front. 

The internal road system of the districts consists of a network of right-angled roads in a grid pattern, while the cycle track network is independent of the road-traffic system. Construction now complies with an urban development plan based on a system of city blocks, with buildings facing the street and provision for the traditional varied requirements of city life: dwellings, offices, shops, sport, leisure and cultural activities. The Fonds Kirchberg is now focusing its activities on the construction of residential areas close to workplaces. The challenge is to transform a model district from the 1960s with its monofunctional spaces served by a road network designed for the greatest possible comfort of the motorist, into a short-distance district with local facilities and services and alternative mobility concepts that reduce the impact of the car. 

The Kirchberg in the early 1960s
A monofunctional district where cars were kings
The Hypobank called on the American architect Richard Meier.
The Kennedy avenue before...
and now!
The biodiversity along the Kennedy avenue

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