An Abandoned Railway, Transformed Into A Traveling Art Market

From parks to playgrounds, many cities are finding creative uses for their defunct railways. With a new whimsical design, two designers in Paris wonder: Why not just repurpose the rails themselves?

An abandoned railway circling the city of Paris used to be the kind of place only the most adventurous of urban explorers visited. Last fall, however, part of the railway was transformed into a park that’s a wilder version of The High Line in New York City (or the Promenade Plantée, also in Paris).


But on this particular rail line, the tracks are still in place, and some activists think that they should be put back to use. That’s why two designers have come up with the idea to start a mobile art market on a running train.

The vision, from architects Amílcar Ferreira and Marcelo Fernandes, was an entry in the recent M.Art Opengap competition, which challenged designers to rethink open-air markets. “We quickly realized that we shouldn’t just make a building,” Fernandes says. “We had to think outside of architecture and while walking on a bridge over the ‘Petite Ceinture’–the abandoned railway–it just came to us.”

The railway was originally built in the late 1800s to move both people and goods deep into the city, but after the Metro was constructed, the train eventually stopped running. The tracks haven’t been used since 1934. But the designers say the connections the train could provide would be especially useful now, when the city is increasingly crowded and also looking for cleaner modes of transportation.

They see the train as a perfect fit for street markets in part because those markets are starting to outgrow their neighborhoods. Sprawling art fairs take up sidewalks, block bike paths, and leave trails of trash when they’re dismantled. By moving the markets to a train, the architects think that those problems could be solved, and the artists themselves could reach more people.

In the proposal, they suggest that each artist could have a workshop in a train car, and during the day, the train could travel to different locations–one in the morning, one in the afternoon. “Because it is so quick to move to the next place, the artists would have the opportunity to go to at least two places a day,” Fernandes says. With a small truck and a tent that would just be impossible. We are making logistics a lot easier with this.”

The train itself, recycled from old cargo cars, would have windows cut in the sides so visitors can see inside the workshops. Visitors could ride inside to spend more time getting to know the artists.


Though the project started as “just another competition,” the designers say they are hoping that the idea might have a chance. They’ve sent the proposal to a group focused on preserving the rail line. But it’s not clear what will happen next for the railway–it’s been a hot political issue for a long time, and at least as many people want to see the area as a park as those who want to revive transportation.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.