Behind the scenes of GS: a long-term urban planning vision

The GS Department is working on a long-term plan for the urban planning of the CERN sites, ensuring that their development takes place using a coherent approach and keeping in mind the need for harmonious integration in the surrounding area.


Visitors are often bemused by CERN’s buildings, with their 1950s style and a layout that seems to defy all logic. Up until the 90s, buildings were erected as accelerators were built, with no apparent concern for harmony. But now, with a much larger number of users and installations, space is at a premium, getting around the site is difficult and urban planners are needed more than ever. "Over 9,000 people enter the CERN sites every day and we have 7,500 workstations," says Frédéric Magnin, Civil Engineering and Buildings Section Leader in the GS Department. For this reason, specialists in the department have been working on the development of the sites for five years. It is especially important that they take into account today’s more complex local environment. The Laboratory, which used to be a remote site in the countryside, now sits in the middle of an urban area, surrounded by increasingly heavy road traffic. "CERN is now a town within a town, and its urban planning has to take the surrounding villages into consideration," Magnin stresses.

The evolution of the Meyrin site over the past 60 years: new buildings are shown in red. From top left to bottom right: 1950-60, 1960-75, 1975-85 and 1985-2010.

This has led the GS Department to launch numerous initiatives both inside and outside CERN. Last year, the Directorate approved a "Master Plan” setting out CERN’s general strategy concerning urban planning, including a development plan for the period up to the year 2030. "This plan concerns all aspects of urban planning, building and the countryside, but also mobility, the environment and energy," says Magnin. "The objective of this overall vision is more coherent development." This master plan will need to be followed by a plan of action, but some concrete actions have already been taken. For example, a special request, called an Infrastructure Project Proposal, is now required for all infrastructure projects. These proposals are examined by the Enlarged Directorate and have to meet a number of criteria. This new procedure should ensure that CERN’s projects are more coherent and should lead to better prioritisation CERN-wide.

Outside the Laboratory, CERN has strengthened its links with regional urban planners. CERN’s sites, given their locations on major traffic arteries on the French-Swiss border, have a strategic role to play in the France-Vaud-Geneva urban development project, also known as “Grand Genève”. CERN is involved in discussions about one part of this project in particular – the Geneva-Saint-Genis-Gex PACA (coordinated urban development zone). In fact, the first public space financed as part of the project, the Esplanade des Particules, is directly associated with CERN: the entire area between the Globe and CERN is to be completely redeveloped. This work, which has been delayed, should start early next year. Collaborations with local authorities will also continue on matters including, for example, the tramline project and the creation of cycle paths.

by Corinne Pralavorio