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High Design

Can a new train station by a brilliant Spanish 'starchitect' give Liège, Belgium, a new lease on life?

Photography COURTESY OF ELTGV / ALAIN JANSSENS

LGG

In Design

THE APPROACH BY ROAD INTO LIÈGE offers a rather uninspiring view of towering steel plants belching gray plumes into the sky, a stark symbol of an industrial city in decline. But the arrival by train is significantly more dramatic (and hopeful), as the high, sweeping arcs of steel, concrete and glass atop the Liège-Guillemins rail station come into view. Open to the city on all sides and topped by a soaring roof, the rail station, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is leading a revival of Liège.

Twelve years in the making, the station, with its high-speed train connections and modern design, is expected to transform the former mining town into an economic and cultural hub by establishing it as a convenient midpoint between London, Paris, Brussels and Cologne. Local authorities are hoping for the so-called “Bilbao effect,” coined after the Guggenheim museum sparked a resurgence in that depressed Spanish port city in 1997.

But the once-gloomy town isn’t pinning its hopes solely on the station. The Media City, a giant shopping mall with lazy loops of steel crisscrossing its roof, and the Curtius Museum, a refurbished 17th century mansion full of archeological finds and decorative arts, are both opening this year and are expected to draw visitors from Calatrava’s creation into the city proper. “To have such a famous architect work here is something the city can take pride in,” said Dominique Jamar of the Liège Tourist Board. “We’re expecting more visitors to come see the station and everything else the city has to offer.” — Guy Dittrich

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