Article 1- Place au Changement

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Located in Saint-Étienne (France), the project studied here is an example of how using unused spaces in a city, and how involve its population on it.

And empty plot that tried to be used for years, but with no success give an idea to Colletif Etc. This group of young architects thought in a smart solution for this space. They won the contest called by the Town Council and proposed their own image of this space.

Since the plot is waiting to host a new building, the idea was to plan an imaginary building on it, and let the people to use it as they want. This project is seen as a first step of a long process. The idea has a double intention: work with the people in order to build a public space and use this opportunity to exchange knowledge with the others and give the instructions to Saint-Étienne’s population to manage this space by themselves.

The name of the project, “Place au Changement” (Place of Change), explains the spirit of this initiative: an open project, built and grounded in citizens.



About the place: Saint-Étienne


Saint-Étienne is located in the eastern central France, in the Rhône-Alpes region. It has a population of approximately 180,000 inhabitants. (300,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area). Its greatest expansion came in the 19th century with the big development of automobile industry.  That lasted until mid-20th century, when industry get worse and worse and factories began to close.  Factories desapeared little by little, and Saint Étienne was commited to choose a new role in society.  Then came culture. Saint- Étienne is tending to become “the capital city of design”, with its introduction in the Network of Creative Cities of the UNESCO.  It hosts also a design biennale, music festivals and have a great offer of museums. Several colleges and universities give also the city a lively and active appearance.

This renovation taken place in the current century cause a change in its urbanistic development.  Closed factories left empty plots all around the city, that need to be filled but they can’t due to the economical crisis.

That’s why in 2007 the Saint- Étienne Town Council creates the EPSE (Établissement Public d’Aménagement de Saint- Étienne,  Public  Company for Saint- Étienne’s Development). This platform aim to renovate more than  1000 hectares in the city, by creating a big business center and make Saint-Étienne the real “capital of culture”. While this project is being ejected, the empty plots keep empty and Saint-Étienne’s population ask for a real and quick solution.

One of this plots is the one we study here. Located in the north-eastern part of the city, limiting with the train rails. This part keeps still traditional houses of the 19th century, but connect also with the suburbs of the city, with new equipments like the service building of the train company, TGV. The plot is the boundary between two different parts, two different ages. It seems to be “nobody- land”, where nobody notice, where nobody wants to act.


Agents involved.

-Collectif Etc. It is an association composed of young architects who mainly collaborates with graphic and landscape designers.They take part in many festivals, conferences, exhibitions and contests in Europe, promoting the creative capacity of every citizen and its participation in the creation of its society. That’s actually the idea in this project. They teach how to manage the space (during 4 months), through different workshops, and then people are supposed to be ready of taking care of their own public space.

-Saint-Étienne Town Council. Due to the urbanistic and economical change of the city (above explained), they created the ÉPAC (Établissiment Public d’Aménagement of Saint-Étienne) to promote the new urban image.

-ÉPAC (Établissiment Public d’Aménagement de Saint-Étienne). Association created in 2007 by the Town Council, born to manage urbanistic issues. In 2011 they called the contest “Défrichez-là”, to attract ideas for using the plot mentioned. They are the promoters of the idea, with a initial budget of 30.000€.

-Collaborators: Artists and other architects.

-Citizens of Saint-Étienne. They are an essential part of the project, without them the project couldn’t exist. They are the base of the idea, and its participation is essential for the preservation of the project. They take part in the construction of the Place au Changement, but after that they are asked to be in charge of it.

This relationship is important in the project:





Necessity of revitalizing a space.

As it’s explained above, the increasing amount of empty plots encourage the idea of the contest. The plot we study is 700 square meters big. That’s a big amount of space that can not be unused! Before the contest was called the plot held an spontaneous parking site and a wasteland. This uses weren’t needed and they were caused by lack of activity in the plot.

Temporary projects. Are they worthy? What’s the main goal of “Place of Changement”?

The fact that “Place of Changement” is a temporary project is the basis of the project. Place of Changement does not expect to last forever. It expects only to experiment a way of managing urban space, avoiding urbanistics rules that would make the project hard to realize.After the experiment is made and has been successful, it can be used to lead a real and long-lasting project. Actually, there’s a new building planned in the same site. The idea is: while this project isn’t being carried out, let’s make something with it. Since citizens didn’t have the opportunity to choose if they wanted the new building or not, let’s give them the opportunity to choose what they want to with it.

People’s participation. Does this idea really last in people’s minds and routines?

Place au Changement’s expectations were creating a debate between Saint- Étienne citizens: What should we do with this space? This debate was creating by the involvement of citizens. Only when you participate actively,  you  realize of the importance of a solution. The activities arranged there became a way to each citizen to express their points of view, and get to understand each other in a better way. It also was an opportunity to create new friends, and better neighbour- relantionships.

The survival of Place au Changement depends directly of the continuity of this friendships, so that was an important point that needed to be reached.




Timeline of events


2000: The petrol station is removed from the plot because there was intentions of building a new dwellings building.

2007: The EPAC is founded to ensure the proper urbanistic development of the city.

2011, March: Contest called by the EPAC: ideas for reactivate and using the plot until the new building is built. Collectiv Etc wins the contest.

2011, July: Place au Changement begins.

2011, November-December: The cooperation of Collectiv Etc ends in Saint-Étienne. But it doesn’t mean the end of Place au Changement.


Strategies developed.


Place au Changement is an initiative that holds for the transformation of a deserted and degraded area in Saint-Étienne. But how is that possible? They way of making people get involved is making different workshops. These workshops expected to instruct people for the future plot maintenance. That’s why the topics are:

– A joinery and carpentry workshop to build all the urban furniture

– An urban graphic design workshop in order to give life to the imaginary housings and to the walled-up buildings.

– A landscape and gardening workshop to lay out the green space and share garden in the center.


Workshops were supported in these points:

-Open project: workshops lasted all the day long to all people who wanted to join (They provided tools for workshops mentions and they acted as “teachers” to explain all the process)

-Each activity was a festival. Every day at 6pm they organized events, such as concerts, dancing lessons, petanque tournaments… In this way the involvement of people is maximized, and you create not only a public space but also a space in common.



Advertising. How to attract people.

The collaboration of several urban artists was important for the advertising of the project. It was important to make people understand that something would happen in this vacant plot, in “their” space, and that event was required of their help.

Most of them keep still in walls, and some of them became a symbol for people in the neighbourhood. A proof of the persistance of these paintings in people is the new name that the plaza took after this project. Citizens voted how the plaza should be named and the chosen name was “Place du Géant” (Place of the Giant)



Levels of intervention


PHASE 1: Work phase. Teaching – Learning

This phase lasted one month (July, 2011). Every day for one month, the site was opened to the public and people could exchange and learn from each other. In workshops took place this “knowledge exchange”: some of people taught and the others learnt. Some local associations, artists or musicians were specially invited to help organizing other activities like wall paintings, concerts, circus skills workshops, open air cinemas, sports tournaments, tango lessons, special meals, round table discussions… An online blog illustrated the everyday life of the building site.

 PHASE 2: Working alone.

After this month citizens were supposed to work alone, if they wanted this space to keep alive. Tools and furniture kept available to those wanting to keep on working and some local people had the initiative to continue to take care of the garden themselves and organize small events. CollectifEtc visited the site and helped planting trees and studied the appropriation of the new public space.

PHASE 3: Current status.

The furniture is not damaged and the place is well maintained, although the participation of people has decreased comparing to previous times. It is now an important element in the neighborhood, a place that neighbours identify to.

PHASE 4: End of Place au Changement? Construction of the new building?

Nothing is known about the construction or not of the new dwellings building. Meanwhile, the Place au Changement continues its way. Will it end if finally the new building is built? Nobody knows, that depends on people’s wishes and their desire of having a space for themselves.


Successes & failures

The greatest successes in this Project come again from people participation. One of them is how a project like this was able to create and make stronger social links. The other is how the idea of city changed for Saint-Étienne citizens. The fact that having taken part in debates, workshops, activities… about the city, made them understand how grateful is creating your own space.

The weak point is that sensation doesn’t last forever, and not for all people. Although activity keeps in Place au Changement nowadays, the amount of people and events have decreased.


CONCLUSION:  why is that a good example and what should we learn about it.


These things can be taken as an example for the project developing in the course.

-How an architectural initiative can create social links, so that they can be used to join two different parts of a city.

-It’s possible to create a space made by citizens. The rule is: if you don’t know what to do with a space, ask the ones that use it!


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