Saint-Paul Campus: a large-scale educational and social building project

Converting a prison into a university campus is the ambition of the large-scale building project which will establish part of the Lyon Catholic University at the heart of the “Confluence” district in 2015. The programme also strives to promote urban diversity and social entrepreneurship.


An impressive architectural programme of 36,000 square metres, as well as an educational and social project! By purchasing the site where the Saint-Paul prison used to stand (in the “Confluence” business district at the south of Perrache) the Lyon Catholic University pursues its development by remaining true to its identity. Converting a prison into a university is turning a place of confinement into one of freedom. It is also about believing that open-mindedness towards knowledge can help one to overlook suffering and enjoy a “wide open life”. As part of Lyon’s social catholic tradition and in partnership with “habitat and humanism”, this large-scale project, specifically entitled “La vie grande ouverte” (life wide open), will also include a section on social entrepreneurship and the construction of mixed housing intended for “students and individuals suffering from precarious health.”

Humanity and urbanity: building a future together

This project illustrates perfectly the original features of UCLy’s teaching and research model: a combination of scientific skills and humanist values of Christian inspiration, technical performance and education of all men and of Man. Through this project, our aim is to write a new chapter of the story of Lyon’s social Catholicism, defined by regional roots and international expansion. It is about building the future without forgetting the past.

“Offering our students a living space conductive to learning and personal fulfilment”

Founded in 1875, the Lyon Catholic University (UCLy) was developed at the heart of Lyon’s peninsula, the Bellecour square. Subject to virtually insoluble surface constraints and the restrictions of newly implemented standards on the Bellecour square, the UCLy moved to the Carnot campus in 2005. This was a first decisive investment. The Carnot campus acquired modern equipment and welcomes today more than one third of the students. However, it cannot cover all of the University’s needs in terms of development.

Copyright : Asylum

A site that experiments with new urban practices

A new campus, a new image, an opportunity of moving forward and the invention of new urban, social, environmental or cultural practices, constitute the objectives set by the UCLy when embarking on this prison conversion project.

With the Development Departments and the “Garbit and Blondeau” architect practise the UCLy drew, a large-scale project entitled “La vie grande ouverte” (Life wide open). The University suggested preserving 40% of the heritage, focused on training, education and research, and promoting the social spirit in St Joseph, together with Habitat and Humanism, the OPAC du Rhône (French public organisation for planning and construction) on the Saint Joseph block, and private initiatives. The project’s technical specifications comprise several property, planning and environmental requirements. The UCLy suggested teaming up with the Sofade, a subsidiary of Dentressangle Initiatives, unique authorised representative, and the OGIC (real-estate company). The Government designated the project “La Vie Grande Ouverte” as the winner of the prize “Vivre ensemble, aujourd’hui et demain” in November 2010. The selling agreement was signed in February 2011 and the building permit was issued in April 2012.

Official opening in September 2015

The Saint-Paul project is a humanist vision which materialises through knowledge, solidarity and intergenerational way of thinking. It is a living space which experiments with new urban practises with diverse recipients and purposes, a global vision of the two blocks which unifies the site and thus creates a new part of town. A direct link to the town is also ensured through the establishment of footbridges between the north-south and east-west sections, making “vaults fall”. In addition, this architectural and environmental initiative respects the town’s heritage and matches the ambitions of the Confluence district.

With a surface area of 36,000 m2 (Net Floor Area), this new campus will welcome, as an extension to the Carnot Campus, the Departments of Law, Economics and Social Science, the The ESDES business school, the Science Department, the Education Authority (Rectorat) Offices and the Vice-Education Authority (Vice-Rectorat) Offices, the University Library, an important number of Central Services, and the offices of the Lyon RCF (Francophone Christian Radio). The campus will thus comprise 70 classrooms and 20 amphitheatres, including one with a capacity of 500 seats.

The construction works, which began in November 2012, will end in spring 2015. The University will thus be established on two of its campus, Saint-Paul and Carnot, by September 2015.

Copyright : J. Michaud/MRCproduction

Thierry Magnin

President of UCLy.