Between restoration and reconstruction, the revitalization of a historic district The site comprises an ensemble of five historical buildings owned by UBS which are bounded by rue de la Confédération, rue du Commerce, rue du Rhône, and the historic Passage des Lions in the prestigious neighbourhood of Les Rues-Basses in Geneva. In January 2009, UBS launched a competition for projects to transform these structures in order to bring them up to contemporary standards of use, functionality, safety, and energy efficiency.
The block comprises the Passage des Lions, designed by Adrien Peyrot and completed in 1911, a unique example of this kind of structure in Geneva, which was landmarked by the Commission Cantonale pour la Conservation des Monuments Historiques et la Protection des Sites; two buildings belonging to an ensemble dating from the early twentieth century; and two buildings along rue du Commerce. The first of these, an example of a palais bancaire built in a quarter of Geneva traditionally dedicated to commercial and banking activities, was designed by Gustave Peyrot and Albert Bourrit, and built between 1939 and 1942 on the site of a mixed-used structure occupied since 1920 by UBS, which had already undergone significant internal transformations. The second one had little architectural or heritage value.
The project proposes an urban intervention seeking to reanimate this venerable block by creating a covered passage along rue du Commerce, and opening a new link between the rotunda of the Passage des Lions and rue du Commerce to integrate the ensemble into the network of pedestrian spaces in Les Rues Basses. The program features shops on the ground and first floors with flexible office space on the remaining levels.
In an ensemble possessing such disparate technical, architectural, historical, and patrimonial character, this project called for a very wide range of types and levels of intervention. One building was demolished (D), another was demolished and replaced by a new building (A), while in the palais bancaire (B) the facades were maintained and the floors, which had been compromised by successive interventions, were rebuilt; other buildings were renovated at the level of replacement of windows, facade insulation, and internal modifications (C, E). With the Passage des Lions, the architects sought to preserve as much as possible of the initial building fabric or to capture its original spirit in elements that had to be replaced.
In terms of reflection and decision-making with respect to strategies for conservation, renovation, and transformation, all of the parties implicated in this project played their roles – the client, UBS, planning authorities and their technical departments, representatives of the local heritage organisations, fire safety officials, technical subcontractors, and finally, the builders, under the leadership of RDR from the competition phase onward. Each of these domains contributed to fascinating discussions from multiple perspectives, leading to an extremely rich and rewarding process that involved technical, functional, and safety requirements as well as economic and regulatory constraints, and which has significant architectural, historical, and patrimonial implications, plaza where the public spaces of the shops and the Congress Centre.