Saint-Etienne and design has a long and ever-growing history. In 2010, Saint-Étienne joined Montreal, Shanghai, Berlin, Seoul and Buenos Aires in the prestigious circle of cities designated by UNESCO as "Creative City of Design". This title refers to the role it played in France during the industrial revolution, but also to its infrastructures, its development, the events held there and its dynamism. What if an urban stroll in Saint-Étienne were an opportunity to take an interest in the strong link between the city of Saint-Etienne and design?

Saint-Etienne and design, a bit of history

Design is giving shape to an idea to meet the needs of human beings. It means designing objects, services and solutions that enable a society to evolve, progress and respond to different challenges, whether economic, social or environmental. In the 19th century, Saint-Etienne was at the forefront of industrial modernity. Some of the greatest inventions were born in this city: the first railway line in 1827 used to transport coal from the mines, the water wheel, developed by Stéphanois Benoît Fourneyron, which made it possible to multiply energy resources in the industrial sector. Not forgetting Manufrance, the first French mail order company to create a multitude of objects useful in everyday life. For 200 years, Saint-Etienne's companies have always shown ingenuity and creativity. And it goes on! Today, the best examples are certainly the world-renowned companies such as Casino or Thalès-Angénieux, specialising in the manufacture of photographic and cinematographic lenses, Thuasne, the undisputed leader in the field of medical textiles, or Focal, the world leader in the manufacture of high-fidelity acoustic solutions. These companies have always known how to integrate design into their manufacturing processes. This creative spirit is not only present in the world of industry. Driven by the Cité du design, the École supérieure d'art et design, and the 15 higher education courses that integrate design, it is also present in many other fields: transport, architecture, town planning, shops, citizen or associative initiatives and public action. Here, we test and experiment at all costs with the desire to invent the city better. A shared and collective state of mind that makes the Metropolis of Saint-Etienne, with its 400,000 inhabitants, a laboratory territory for design

The creative district and the Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial

The Manufacture Plaine Achille district, known as the "creative district" of Saint-Etienne, acts as a catalyst for these creative energies. A district dedicated to innovation in all its forms, it is a central location for work, training (notably the presence of the Saint-Etienne School of Art and Design), experimentation, culture, art and leisure. A new space, the Knowledge Centre for Innovation, has just been inaugurated there to welcome researchers, companies and students. The student population is the fastest growing in France in the last 10 years. That's how dynamic Saint-Étienne is! The Cité du design is a flagship of the creative district. Installed in the former Manufacture d'Armes, it includes a restaurant, a shop, exhibition spaces, a material library and a microclimatic greenhouse. From the Observatory Tower, 32 m high, the panorama of the city is breathtaking!

The site also promotes design, notably through the flagship event that takes place there in spring-summer 2021: the Saint Étienne International Design Biennial. This major event offers a time to reflect on design, through exhibitions, experiments, tours, exchanges and a hundred or so events and activities throughout the metropolis and beyond. In 2021, the theme is that of "Bifurcations", as a resonance to the health crisis, and the need to explore other paths, collectively, with greater respect for the world. For several months, a whole territory vibrates to the rhythm of the Biennial. With exhibitions in the heart of the Cité du design and the creative district, but also workshops, visits, activities spread throughout the city. It's also an opportunity for visitors to discover designer shops, concept stores... and design shops. Because this upcoming Biennial will also be an opportunity to discover the 10 winning businesses of the 10th edition of the Commerce Design Competition

A stroll in St. Stephen under the sign of design

A walk in Saint-Etienne under the sign of design leads visitors to the foot of remarkable buildings, built by renowned architects. The Cité Grüner (Manuelle Gautrand), the Zénith (Norman Foster), the Maison de l'emploi (Rudy Ricciotti), the Nouvelle Comédie de Saint-Étienne (Studio Milou and Ruedi Baur), the former Poste Weiss block (Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec) and the Geoffroy Guichard stadium (Chaix and Morel) are certainly worth a look. On the Avenue de la Libération side, it is the Art Nouveau buildings that catch the eye, not forgetting the Chamoncel residence, a renaissance building listed as a historical monument. To enjoy design, you sometimes have to enter surprising interiors! How can we not mention the two 6-storey buildings without stairs or elevator by Auguste Bossu, located on Boulevard Daguerre? You must also keep your eyes open at all times, to discover colourful and original street furniture, many of which come from the Bench d'essai system: at each Biennial, visitors can test dozens of street furniture pieces created by international designers in real life. The most appreciated creations are kept in the public space in a permanent way. Another curiosity, in rue George Teyssier, the Engrainage work appears as a suspended and multicoloured constellation. The Châteaucreux railway station alone is a concentrate of unusual installations. One can observe in turn the nail-shaped Tempo stool seats by François Bauchet and the two blue horses by Assan Smati watching over Philippe Million's multi-coloured tree. Opposite the station, it is the red buildings of the former Weiss Post Island that impress with their bold shape, and a little further on the imposing Cité Grüner, in a sparkling bright yellow. Since the last two biennials, two so-called design trams have been running alongside the classic trams. Black and white or with "jungle" motifs, the tramway, which has been running in Saint-Etienne since 1881, is also the subject of visual creations by design students.

The history of design and the collections of objects can be discovered in the major places of Saint-Etienne's culture, such as the Museum of Art and Industry, the Mining Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Saint-Etienne Métropole.

Finally, before leaving for a breath of fresh air to the Loire Gorges or the Pilat Regional Park, another place fascinates by its remarkable design: the Le Corbusier de Firminy complex, the first complex in Europe of Le Corbusier's work, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located only 10 minutes from Saint-Etienne.

Smart info

When? This year, to take advantage of the Design Biennial, choose spring and summer. Winter also has its charm, but can be quite cool

Go there. By car from Paris, take the A6 in the direction of Lyon. From Marseille, take the A7 in the direction of Lyon and from Bordeaux, take the A89. By train, Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux station. By plane, direction Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport.

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