Luxembourg City
© Thomas Linkel

Open and Diverse Multi-faceted, modern, cosmopolitan

6 minutes

A city that connects
Destination(s): Luxembourg City

Skylines and river valleys, modern glass buildings on historic foundations, and swathes of green: Luxembourg’s capital is as diverse as its residents, who hail from more than 100 nations. A ramble with architects Arnaud de Meyer and Nico Steinmetz through the UNESCO World Heritage site and forward-looking urban worlds. 

The scene looks like a sketch created jointly by man and nature: below is the meandering valley of the Alzette; above, the historic casemates and the old abbey; and above still, modern buildings on the plateau in the horizon. Between all of them is the vibrant splash of colour provided by the trees’ rich green leaves. That’s Luxembourg City. 

“A city on many levels” is how architect Nico Steinmetz likes to describe his home. We are currently looking out onto the Dräi Eechelen park. The view gives a good example of how varied the capital is – topographically, architecturally and cosmopolitically. It is a Saturday, and Nico and his colleague Arnaud de Meyer are riding through their city on bicycles.

 

 

Philharmonie Luxembourg City
© Thomas Linkel

The tour starts on the Kirchberg plateau. The business and financial district is marked by modern glass and steel edifices. The lenticular Philharmonie, all in white, dominates Place de l’Europe with its 823-columns in front of a glass façade. This is where skaters practise their moves in the afternoons. Just two minutes away is the Mudam art museum. The bright building – made of glass, steel and stone and with strong geometric shapes – was built on the site of an old fortress. 

Descend a steep, forested path and you arrive in Pfaffenthal. Arnaud and Nico love visiting this former working-class neighbourhood in the Alzette valley. According to Nico, the area has changed beyond recognition in recent times, having been transformed from a “less desirable, out-of-the-way place” to a great location to visit. Birds tweet, while the clamour of children resonates from the playground around the corner. Halfway between the railway viaduct and the Alzette, Nico points to the Oekozenter Pafendall, which hosts the head office of the environmental organisation Mouvement écologique. The light wooden building looks like four blocks stacked on top of each other. It is a textbook example of a modern passive house with an optimum carbon footprint – “a pilot project in Luxembourg,” explains Nico, who designed the centre.

Oekozenter Pafendall Luxembourg City
© Thomas Linkel

The light wooden building of the Oekozenter Pafendall, looks like four blocks stacked on top of each other. It is a prime example of a modern passive house with an optimum carbon footprint. The district’s bats have also been taken into account. There is a protected nesting box for them in the façade. 

Panoramic lift: a stage for life

Part of getting to know Luxembourg City involves losing yourself in the innumerable small, cobbled streets that criss-cross it. It’s worth taking a detour across the river to the Muerbelsmillen, Pfaffenthal’s last watermill still in operation. A mustard-yellow sign with the inscription Moutarderie Hartmann is a giveaway as to its current use: a mustard factory.
 

“Architecture has an influence on people’s everyday lives. With their help, we want to improve everyone’s quality of life,” says Arnaud, looking up to Pfaffenthal’s panoramic lift, which is currently on the move. Since 2016, the lift, designed by Nico and Arnaud, has transported passengers from the Alzette valley to the city centre above in around 30 seconds. The view changes constantly over the journey in the glass cabin. Pfaffenthal’s centuries-old houses become ever smaller. The forest hanging over the plateau comes into view. The towers of the Kirchberg skyline are gradually unveiled on the horizon. The Rout Bréck emerges upon arrival at the summit. This striking red steel bridge spans the Pfaffenthal valley over a length of 355 m.

In Nico’s view, the lift is a stage for life in the city. “When you take the lift and look over the valley, you might see someone sitting on their terrace or looking out of their window – and they can look right back at you too. You only catch a fleeting glimpse of each other, yet you feel connected.” It is a lift that embodies and serves as a point of reference for an entire neighbourhood and those who visit it.

Rue du Nord: colourful façades, lively cafés, UNESCO values

A change of scenery. Bright tables are lined up along the edges of side streets, occupied by young people sipping latte macchiatos or elderflower lemonade. People are conversing and swapping gossip along the narrow streets. Others are strolling over the cobblestones, pointing at the yellow, green and lavender-pink façades, nodding at café patrons relaxing on the multicoloured furniture. The Rue du Nord in the old town – where the renovation of the historic façades was the first project that Arnaud and Nico worked on together – is yet another urban stage.

“We all have different ancestry,” says Nico. About 70% of Luxembourg City’s residents do not hold a Luxembourg passport, while 180,000 commuters travel from the neighbouring countries each day. “So we all meet up in the old town’s cafés and squares. These places unite us in our differences and make for the city’s atmosphere. For me, Luxembourg City is a global village.” In addition to the city’s countless historic buildings, this multicultural feeling of togetherness is a key component of UNESCO’s ideal values.

Rue du Nord Luxembourg City
© Thomas Linkel

Petrusse valley: a garden in the heart of the city

The architects cycle past the cuboid National Museum of History and Art down a steep, narrow alleyway towards the Petrusse. It is in this valley between the upper city and the Bourbon Plateau where Luxembourg City shows off its greenness. The tributary of the Alzette flows placidly through the valley. On the fringes of green expanses of the various parks lie the escarpment ruins of fortresses and bastions. A few moments later, the city’s effervescent murmur can no longer be discerned. But that is exactly what makes Luxembourg City such a great place to live – you can switch so quickly and effortlessly between levels and worlds: whether by lift or by bike.

Urban Sketching

Arnaud de Meyer sits on a low wall in front of the fence separating the grounds of the Rotondes cultural centre from the railway tracks of the central station. On his knees sits a small sketchbook. With a steady hand and a 0.5 mm black waterproof fineliner pen, Arnaud traces delicate lines. The old gantry, through which locomotives once trundled, quickly takes shape. Details merge into others: the lamp on the gable, the surrounding walls, alebenches, folded-up parasols, the façades of neighbouring buildings, a small flock of birds, Virginia creeper on one wall. In only 30 minutes, he has immortalised the entire scene on paper. Just a critical glance over the top of his glasses and he is satisfied: he adds his signature and today’s date to the sketchbook sheet. This is urban sketching – Arnaud’s way of discovering the city. “Drawing requires one thing above all else: taking a good look around,” he says. 

“Luxembourg City is beautiful, with a lot of green from all viewpoints – from below to above and vice versa – and buildings dating from a multitude of eras,” rhapsodises the Belgian. Even after 25 years living and working in the capital city, he is still awed by its one-of-a-kind atmosphere, which he wants to share with as many people as possible through art. “With urban sketching, you draw in public places, whether alone or in a group,” he explains. “Then suddenly, passers-by see what you’re doing and view the area with a new perspective. They look more closely, discuss the buildings and the art, and ask questions,” the architect continues.

Urban sketching is an international community. The artists are connected digitally and travel around the world to get to know other artists and places and to exchange ideas. 

Urban Sketching Luxembourg City
© Thomas Linkel

Experience urban sketching and architecture

City pictures

The back of Mudam, where you find the Museum Dräi Eechelen and the park, has long been a popular meeting place for relaxing in the evening or picnicking with friends. “A wide variety of cultures live in harmony with each other in the city. And in this environment, anyone can meet new people and enjoy nature and gorgeous views,” says Arnaud.

Both architects are adamant that while Luxembourg City is proud of its cultural heritage, it is nevertheless a forward-looking city. This is clear to see. Five years ago, Arnaud and Nico designed the shimmering glass and steel walkway that connects the city hall to the Bierger-Centre. It stands out as a piece of ultra-modern architecture in the historic Place Guillaume II, in the middle of the city. 

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