Letter from Bordeaux: we chart the new wave of architecture projects shaping the French city
The busy French port of Bordeaux is in a state of transformation. A place of cultural exchange for more than 2,000 years, the city centre has been listed by UNESCO as 'an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble, created in the Age of Enlightenment', based on past eras' innovations. When mayor Alain Juppé kick started a - currently ongoing - urban renaissance in 1996, he was aiming to respect this glorious past, but look firmly towards the city's future, bringing innovation back in its heart.
Until recently, urban development was mostly limited to the left bank of the river Garonne, locking the city into one-sided growth. Known as 'the Port of the Moon' for its crescent-like shape, the city will, by 2030, complete its upgrade to 'full moon' and attract up to 100,000 new residents (about 50,000 new residents have already moved here in the last five years). Large parts of the city are being 'reactivated' and public spaces and connections improved; a new TGV line is also coming to town, strategically reducing the distance between Bordeaux and Paris to a mere two hours.
At the moment, across the city, a range of large-scale projects, including a handful of new districts emerging in former industrial areas, is currently in design, planning or construction. Key French and international practices are involved to mastermind entire neighbourhoods or create landmark buildings. Contributors include BIG, Herzog & de Meuron, Youssef Tohmé, Michel Desvigne, Rudy Ricciotti, MVRDV and OMA. The latter has been working on two different masterplans in the city; one is a major new urban development in the south, based on the expansion of the local tram system, and the other is around 50,000 new housing units in the city.
One of the key aims is to avoid anonymous suburbs and encourage the creation of new urban centres that are well connected and fully equipped to serve both the existing and the newly born neighbourhoods around them. The task of bringing in modernity while respecting heritage required some serious investigation into Bordeaux's DNA, which is defined by the city's two distinct banks and the juxtaposition of man-made environments and nature within them. Here we visit some of the projects set to change the face of Bordeaux.