Esch 2022 celebrates one of Europe’s most spectacular industrial turnarounds

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130 cultural projects are currently underway or recently completed in the post-industrial areas of Esch and the surrounding area, extending to certain regions of France. The Esch2022 program, which covers 170 square miles, also includes the acquisition and renovation of existing historic buildings. The initiative aims to encourage “a transformation from an industrial society to a knowledge society”, explains Nancy Braun, managing director of Esch2022. Esch learned of its designation in 2017, Braun says, and the Esch2022 project (and its promise to bring life, culture, art and events to the Belval district) has helped the state invest in many new construction projects, in addition to what was already underway.

Esch’s largest reuse development is Belval, a residential and business district two miles west of Esch town center that spans acres of former brownfields and successfully integrates two gigantic decommissioned blast furnaces (300 feet high). Considered state-of-the-art when unveiled in 1979, both ovens (three times, until one was sold and shipped to China) were decommissioned in 1993. Today, benevolently reigning on several new restaurants, they are surprisingly stately in their poignant acknowledgment of industrial days past, perhaps because they are softened by elegant light elements, colorful marsh herb gardens and reflecting pools by the landscape architect Michael Desvigne. For those wishing to climb 180 steps directly, a tour ends with stunning views of the distinctive cityscape and nearby farmland.

View of the Belval blast furnaces and the Massenoire converted into an exhibition and entertainment venue. © EMIL HENGEN

Belval’s first building after the dismantling was the Rockhal, completed in 2005. Now the largest concert hall in Luxembourg, it can accommodate up to 6,500 people in its largest room and 1,200 people in an adjoining room. Six rehearsal rooms, a recording studio and a media library are also available to encourage the next generation. During Esch2022, the Rockhal will present “The Sound of Data: Science Meets Music”, a collaborative project transforming data into a concert of electronic music.

The Cité des Sciences, the scientific campus of the University of Luxembourg adjoining the blast furnaces, came next in the transformation of Belval. At its heart is the 670,000 square foot Maison du Savoir. Designed by Baumschlager Eberle Architekten and Christian Bauer & Associés Architectes and completed in 2015, it incorporates classrooms and administrative offices. Its sister building, completed in 2018, is the University Library, the 200,000 square foot House of the Book by Valentiny Hvp Architects. Also open to the public, it is packed with some 800,000 books, with more than 1,000 workstations to suit various research or study requirements.

L'Arche Cultural Center
Construction is wrapping up at L’Arche, a new cultural center on the site of a former steel kiln designed by K Architectures. © DANIEL BRACHETTI

Opposite the Rockhal in Massenoire, one of the two industrial sites converted into exhibition and event venues, an audiovisual trail takes visitors through the history of the Luxembourg steel industry as well as the evolution of the new university district in “Remixing Industrial Pasts”. The result of a collaboration between the architectural firms Tokonoma and 2F Architettura and the Luxembourg Center for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) of the University of Luxembourg, the exhibition is visible until May 15.

Across the border in Micheville, Villerupt, France, a new cultural center designed by K Architectures opened in January. Built on the site of an old steel furnace, L’Arche pays homage to Villa Malaparte, a distinctive red stone house on the Italian island of Capri. It contains two rooms (one with nearly 700 seats, then a smaller 150-seat cinema), as well as recording studios and a digital exhibition space. Upcoming events include a film screening with live music by the Philharmonie Luxembourg, as part of the 2022 Villerupt Italian Film Festival; an acrobatic dance project; outdoor film screenings; and monthly “repair cafes” with experts on hand to repair broken household tools such as vacuum cleaners.

Konschthal Esch
Projections by artist Lisa Kohl inside the Konschthal Esch, a former furniture store transformed into a 2,600 square meter museum of contemporary art. ©ROMAIN GIRTGEN

In the center of Esch, a former hollowed-out furniture store now houses a 2,500 m² museum of contemporary art. Inaugurated in October, Konschthal Esch—a Space for Contemporary Art is Brutalist in form, with four levels of concrete slabs supported by raw metal beams. Its design is signed by the museum’s artistic director, Christian Mosar, in collaboration with the Architecture Division of the City of Esch-sur-Alzette. “Filip Markiewicz: Instant Comedy,” a presentation of the local artist’s paintings and sculptures, will address themes of overexposure and judgment in social media, through May 22.

After a renovation and expansion that includes a new annex by Luxembourg architect Jim Clemes housing temporary and permanent exhibition spaces and administrative offices, the National Museum of Resistance and Human Rights, also in the center -city of Esch, should reopen on April 1st. At nearly 9,400 square feet, the new facility is almost triple its previous size.

A notable piece of Esch’s industrial past can only be seen on Google Maps. A river appears to flow directly through the city center on the app, but you won’t find it. The Alzette, which gave its name to the city, actually flows under the city in an underground channel before resurfacing on its outskirts. “It was paved because it smelled bad,” reveals a tourist guide.

For a full list of Esch 2022 events, click here.

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