Historical commute

January 13, 2012

The walk to the Archives de l’État on the Rue du Chéra in Liège takes you above the huge, new Guillemins railway station which opened in 2009. The vast structure of glass, steel and white concrete was designed by Santiago Calatrava to be open on both sides, allowing you to exit onto a verge leading uphill to grander houses with views, or downhill to shabbier suburbs.

Photo by Joao Carlos, taken from http://www.wallpaper.com

Calatrava’s work is famous, admired by some and disliked by others: his streamlined, skeletal buildings include the Zurich Law Library  and the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences. Liège-Guillemins station is a key interchange: on the high-speed rail network that can take you all round Belgium, to Germany, Paris or – on the Eurostar – to the UK: all of the platforms are designed for rapid arrival and departure. A document produced by the Belgian State Railway (who commissioned the station, through which it is estimated 33,000 people pass through every day) states that ‘with a majestic station symbolising its development, Liège is moving forwards’, and a British press article ran with the title ‘Liège-Guillemins train station: a ticket to tomorrow’. Expensive, travel-related architecture is necessarily about a faster future, and about where one might go from the departure station. At the end of the working day the station seems busier than Paris Nord or St Pancras.

But if one uses Guillemins to commute to the archives on Rue du Chéra the station does seem to take you deeper down into Liège as well as through it — it is built on the site of an old convent set up by followers of St Guillaume, and the details of this order are kept up the hill above the station in the record office along with the archives of Spa, a nearby municipality and ancient watering-place that gave its name to the whole genre of spas, and indeed the ubiquitous mineral water brand Spa drunk by most commuters in this region.

Spa Ville archival folder, holding records of C17 Spa

The museum at Spa holds vessels in which mineral water was bottled in the seventeenth century, and is well worth a visit, not far from the Spa station opposite which is a vast building owned by and bearing the Spa Monopole logo. Like the Liège station with its Guillemite history expanded, the Spa station is overlooked by a logo of the mineral water brand.



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