This Abandoned Coal Mine is Now a Hub for Arts and Culture

This Abandoned Coal Mine is Now a Hub for Arts and Culture

In Oignies, France, the decade-long transformation of a coal mine is complete – and 9-9 Bis is a sprawling cultural complex that honours its heritage.

Structures with good bones, we’ve noted in the past, can withstand a multitude of uses. And there’s something undeniably satisfying about successful urban interventions, whether it’s cathedral-like parks carved under aging expressways or lifeguard stations converted into pop-up art. Such conversions allow us to reimagine the already-built environment; every city should relish the chance to build its own High Line.

The changerooms at 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

That is why projects like 9-9 Bis, a sprawling rejuvenation project a decade in the making, are so fascinating. France recently declared that it will abandon coal-firing power stations within three years, but in the ’90s, the process was already under way: the country was becoming less reliant on coal.

Accordingly, Oignies’ coal mine, in the Hauts-de-France region, was shuttered in 1990 – and it remained unused until 2005, when Hénin-Carvin Intermunicipal Council, which represents 14 municipalities, held a competition to redevelop the site.

The facade of 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

The offices at 9-9 Bis retain the mining buildings’ original facade.

It was a contest that Hérault Arnod Architectures, a Paris-Grenoble architecture firm with a rehabilitation-focused portfolio, won. The studio pitched a concept based on music – “in memory of the massive noise produced by this industrial site when in production, now fallen silent in its abandonment,” it says – that includes recording facilities, a TV studio, dance spaces, seminar rooms, offices and a dramatic dressing room. In total, the project cost €9 million.

The site map, outlined below, spirals facilities around a central courtyard.

The site map of 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

9-9 Bis, which stretches nearly 3,600 square metres and contains buildings constructed between 1928 and 1970, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Accordingly, Hérault Arnod went to great lengths to maintain the site’s integrity, even as it changed functions: facades have been refreshed, but are otherwise unaltered; wall tiles and flooring have been restored; exposed brick walls, gantry cranes and pulleys remain; and new insulation was added over existing roof frames.

A small auditorium at 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

Insulation was placed above roof frames, visible in this small auditorium.

Even the pops of green paint – something a visitor might consider a contemporary touch – are restorations, recreating the “hygiene green” colour that originally adorned original buildings’ walls. A staple of early 20th century buildings linked to health, the colour is still associated with medical scrubs.

The mezzanine of 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

The mezzanine leading to the change rooms.

But make no mistake: 9-9 Bis was designed with culture, not coal, in mind. As musical activity can be loud, Hérault Arnod designed a series of acoustically insulated volumes, which the architects call “nesting boxes.” Each of these boxes, like the TV studio below, is clad in reflective aluminum cladding, acting as a mirror to the brick-and-beam surrounding.

The TV studio in 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

Nesting rooms, like this TV studio, were outfitted with a reflective aluminum skin.

Even if its occupants are no longer miners, the reflective volumes invite visitors to ponder the site’s original materials and former usage. “The dialogue created by the reflection of the textures of the past in these contemporary surfaces symbolizes the shifts in the great social paradigms that have been underway since the last century,” the firm says.

The recording studio in 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

Common areas outside 9-9 Bis’s recording studios.

The newest, and final, addition to 9-9 Bis complex is its changeroom. Called le salle des pendus, or the hanging room, it’s an expansive, 70-metre hall that contains bathrooms, changing spaces and showers. Aside from a geometric volume containing a staircase, le salle des pendus resembles a mining facility quite closely, right down to the original ceiling-mounted hooks, which once hung workers’ clothing to dry.

The changerooms in 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

The original communal showers that line the hall (below) are an apt reminder of how the site and the region’s industries have transformed. Cities may be increasingly drawing cultural workers, but projects like 9-9 Bis prove that the past needn’t be forgotten.

The changerooms in 9-9 Bis, a cultural hub on a former mining site.

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