Bordeaux – A brief history
Bordeaux's city plan is organised on a concentric grid that reveals the city's history. The city is wrapped around the large bend in the Garonne that earned the city its nickname « Port of the Moon ». It's under this name that Unesco officially registered the city as a world heritage site in June 2007.
Burdigala in the Gallo-Roman times
The city's location inhabited since the 6th century B.C., was taken over by the romans after the Gallic Wars where it saw many social changes and changed shape as well. A grid-based road system was implemented following a North/South axis along the cardo (rue Saint-Catherine today) and the decumanus (cours de l'Intendance and cours du Chapeau-Rouge today). At first an open city, Burdigala saw the addition of a rampart at the end of the 3rd century that followed the cours du Chapeau–Rouge, the rue des Remparts, the cours d'Alsace-et-Lorraine. At the time, the inner-city port was under the current Eglise Saint-Pierre. The first churches were built during the 4th century with the town cathedral already at the Southwest corner of the castrum. Besides the main axes, the only trace of the antiquity still above ground, is the amphitheatre, the « palais Gallien », in the street with the same name. What came after was a troubled time, marked by a drop in the level of technical know-how and in the city's standard of living.
The English influence during Middle Ages
After a few signs of possible renewal, the second half of the 12th century is marked by a strong population growth, while the region of Aquitaine, that at the time, stretched from the Loire river to the Pyrenees, became English. This came about due to Aliénor the duchesse of Aquitaine's marriage with Henri Plantagenêt in 1152. Henri would become king two years later and Aquitaine would remain under English dominion for three centuries. From then on, surrounded by it's vineyards, Bordeaux prospered. After gaining some autonomy at the beginning of the 13th century with the installation of it's municipal structure, the « jurade », the city would erect two more ramparts. The first, in order to protect the southern extension, turned commercial, political and intellectual hub and it's own inner harbour. This harbour, a twin of the old roman harbour, made going up the Peugue in boat beyond the market place (the current place Fernand-Lafargue) possible. Non-existent on the side of the river where only wineries protected the access to the city, this double curtain wall followed the rue Duffour-Dubergier and the cours Victor Hugo. The third and final wall, mostly built during the 14th century, encircles the Northern and Sothern faubourgs. Of the medieval period few buildings still stand: the two doors to the city (Porte Cailhou on the docks and la Grosse-Cloche on cours Victor Hugo), the churches and very few houses. The architectectural renewal of the city left a paradoxical landscape of roads whose barely aligned planning grid dated back to the middle ages, flanked on both sides by buildings built from the 17th to the 19th century.
From a discrete Renaissance to the conquest of new territories
Influencing mostly the setting, the Renaissance left only discrete traces on Bordeaux's architecture, while the Classicism and Mannerism mouvements are largely expressed on Bordeaux's 17th century façades. These are still under studied, except for the “monumental” architecture of the churches of the counter-reform (Saint-Bruno, Saint-Paul and Notre-Dame) and the private mansions (rue du Mirail, Cours du Chapeau-Rouge).
Starting in the 14th century, to the North the Chartrons neighbourhood developed outside the city's walls. Port activities, which until then were spread out all along the waterfront, began to concentrate there over the next few centuries, architecturally rebuilding the area in a manner that combined the merchants living quarters, office space and wine storage cellars. At the end of the 17th century, its ramparts were stifling the city's growth. At the time the city itself was made up of three entities, the downtown area, the Saint-seurin faubourg to the west and the Chartrons neighbourhood, separated by the vast military-owned land of the château de la Trompette (the current place des Quinconces). Charles VII built the château in order to control the city's population during the mid 15th century when the region of Aquitaine was returned to France and then expanded by Louis XIV.
The urban arts lesson of the 18th century
During the course of the18th century, the stewards, who represented the King in the country's many provinces, were preoccupied with embellishing the cities under their jurisdiction. At the time, Bordeaux was in its golden age due to the triangular commerce and its wine trade as well. The place Royale (the current place de la Bourse), based on a plan of a “half-Vendôme square”, re-established the idea of a façade composition that was becoming “traditional” of Parisian royal squares as popularised by Jules Hardouin-Mansard. It is connected to the new marketplace (place du Parlement). Tourny continued the city's constructions with the “grande façade” and the tree-lined promenades around the city, the “cours”. Linking them to the existing city was achieved through town squares with uniform architecture punctuated by gateways (which were not defensive but fiscal gateways). Bordeaux's first public garden, to the north, was imagined as a hub linking, les Chartrons, Saint-Seurin and the downtown area. The construction of the Grand Théâtre at the end of the 18th century showed the neoclassicism triumph that would come to dominate all the 19th century.
The city's modernization during the 19th century
After abandoning the idea of an enclosed city, the need to create a new city limit lead to the construction of the boulevards, open for use during the second half of the 19th century on land that still wasn't very urbanized. These boulevards, the third ring in the concentric system of organisation, are one of the best responses to the spirit of Haussmann's work in Paris. Other road realignments and minor corrections took place at this time, but the most ambitious forays weren't carried out. The city added modern accommodations like the courthouse, the Saint-André Hospital, and, on a smaller scale, schools. The creation of a historical monuments agency in 1830 had multiple consequences: not only are the city's monuments protected and restored, but this new activity on behalf of the architects open their personal culture beyond classicism, feeding a rising eclectic trend. Finally, from this time on, the concept of heritage sites wouldn't stop evolving, becoming more and more a part of modernism at the risk of become fused together. Even if it wasn't exceptional, Bordeaux experienced a small industrial development principally to the North at Bacalan and at la Bastide on the right riverside, the railroad working with the harbour. Population spiked during the second half of the century, housing being primarily developed between the 18th century “cours” and the 19th century boulevards, in the form of housing allotments and terraced houses.
The city-centric policies of the inter-war period
The Inter-war period is greatly influenced by the city-centered policies lead by the mayor/architect duo of Adrien Marquet and Jacques d'Welles. They had two objectives: offer the city's inhabitants new accommodations and reinvigorate the construction industry in a time of economic crisis. Because of his reprehensible choice to collaborate with the Nazis during their occupation of the city, the works lead by Marquet have for a long time been left to the side. It is however possible to dissociate his political life from his professional activities. At a time where the modernist movement was developing its principles (a built witness of which is la cité Frugès in Pessac by le Corbusier 1924-1926), architects were hesitating between mimicking the prestigious 18th century (the Bourse Maritime copies the bourse du Commerce de la place Royale except in cement) and a more refined modernity, like that of la Régie du gaz (today the Mama Schelter hotel) that stands out, so near to the cathedral. However it was the Art deco movement, a trend presented at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, that truly dominated the architectural production of the city, like the whole of France at that time. At the city level, la Bourse du travail, the city's stadium, the centre for mail sorting, the surgical clinic and the new slaughterhouses were built. La Bastide, a socialist stronghold on the right riverside got its singular cantonal house. The city saw more common accommodations built as well such as schools, sanatoriums and day cares.
The ‘glorious thirty' and the Modernist movement's triumph
After the Second World War, under the governance of mayor Chaban-Delmas, the ideas of the Modernist movement were triumphant in Bordeaux just like in the rest of France. The public works put into effect in Bordeaux are proof enough, supported by a mayor who put his national and local terms in office on the line in order to serve a city that he had to seduce in order to be accepted. He thought about territory management on the scale of an urban agglomeration of cities and no longer on a scale of a city, a work practise established by Marquet and taken up again by Chaban who, as soon as he was elected in 1947, moved the university campus to Talence. The campus would then grow and become a part of Talence, but also Pessac and Gradignan, before the creation of the Bordeaux Urban Community (CUB) in 1967.
As soon as 1954, the Benauge fire station is built, insolently standing so tall on the right riverbank, in front of the 18th century's “grande façade” like a manifest to modern architecture. Downtown, the Palais des sports, reasserts the automobile's supremacy by taking over the great metallic Victor Hugo market. In 1958 a large celebration was thrown as a fleet of buses replaced the city's old tramway system. The cité administrative would take the form of two towers, Bordeaux's first “skyscrapers” and the unmistakable tripod of modern hospitals that make up l'hôpital Pellegrin. The national school for magistrates was squeezed comfortably between the towers of the fort du Hâ and the 19th century courthouse. Large housing complexes set up at first within Bordeaux's city limits (la Benauge, le Grand Parc) before settling in the towns all along the right riverside.
In the inherited part of town, between the heavy renovation processes in neighbourhoods labelled “unsanitary” and the emergence of the notion of urban heritage, to be preserved, a certain schizophrenia can be seen, plainly expressed in Bordeaux: while the Meriadeck area is completely demolished to replace it with a high-rise neighbourhood, a vast “safeguarded sector” protects the downtown soon after the loi Malraux was ratified putting in place the rules of preservation, in 1962. Finally, the swamp in the North is drained in order to conquer new land around the lake for an urban agglomeration already foretold to total a million inhabitants
However, with the first oil crisis at the end of the ‘Glorious Thirty', Bordeaux, out of breath, picked up the nickname la “belle endormie” (the sleeping beauty). At the end of his ”reign” Chaban announced the following period by starting several projects and discussions on the idea of clean transportation within the city limits, the “renewal of the city on itself” in the Chartrons, with ZAC's project on le “Grand îlot”, the reconquering of both riversides and new bridges.
Bordeaux in the “sustainable city” era
The architectural production during Chaban's tenure as mayor appears as both rich and complex. Alain Juppé, elected in 1995, inherited simultaneously unfinished projects (the Lake), others that need to be rehabilitated, hot topic issues (the subway) and already started plans (the reworking of both riversides and the question of new bridges), a city centre from which families flee, a territory very affected by an unbridled urban sprawl (between 1950 and 1999, the urban area shot up 135% for a 45% population increase), but also a very consequential property tax capacity.
As soon as he was elected, Bordeaux urban planning was a priority for the new mayor. He presented its evolution to the population on three occasions, in 1996, 2009 and 2013. The cornerstone of his project was the installation of a tramway system instead of the subway system, chosen by the Urban Community before 1995. The tramway was much better suited for a very low-density city like Bordeaux. It also had the added benefit of bringing up questions of rehabilitating public spaces and reducing the amount of space allocated to cars within the city. In ten years the results have been remarquable. Where the tramway passes and beyond, the spaces have been repurposed and given back to pedestrians. The landscape architect Michel Corajoud, winner of the 1999 contest, offered to turn the riverbanks into gardens. The whole 4,5 km course has several different phases. In front of the Place de la Bourse, the “mirroir d'eau” (water mirror) returns the square's lost relationship with the river. Becoming quickly the iconic symbol of the city, “the Eiffel tower of Bordeaux”, it is a place for social gatherings, for a very diverse population. The very hot topic of bridges is resolved by the construction of a drawbridge, that lets the Port of the Moon's landscape be open and free.
Besides the Chartrons neighbourhood whose transformation is still on going, three industrial districts, now abandoned, have been identified as places to explore in order to rebuild the city on itself. First called the “3 Bs” (Bacalan to the North, la Bastide on the right riverside and Belcier to the South), they've become “the sustainable development arc” with the 2009 project. The reconquering of le Bastide, started with the ZAC Cœur de Bastide around a new Botanical Garden, is continued with the ZAC Bastide Niel. Barely started, this project is better known today for a smaller project unrelated to the original, the economical and ecological “Darwin ecosystem”, a uniquely atypical experience that has acquired a large notoriety. At the end of the new bridge, the Brazza neighbourhood, pursues to the North the reclaiming of the right bank. To the South, the plans for the Belcier district have changed scale, with the planned arrival of the high speed rail system and the opening of the new train station (planned for July 2017) : in 2009, the whole area became an “Operation of national interest” (OIN) Euratlantique. The French government is therefore an active player is three cities: Bordeaux, Bègles and Floriac. The third “B” connects several projects from the docks and Bassins à flots through to the lake: The Bassins à flot, in the form of a “negotiated project”, offers a rich system of roads of varying sizes that characterises the area with a formal unity from an imaginary virtual industry.
On the lakeshore a whole different kind of landscape can be found in the heart of the eco-neighbourhood Ginko that favours diversity in forms and building materials.
Beyond the elimination of the car, the city centre is also the theatre for several building renovation projects. The objective is to try to hold onto a social diversity and to fight the exodus of families. The southern part is the focal point of a National renovation plan for old degraded neighbourhoods (“PNRQAD”), an area in which the EAAE meeting place is located.
French law mostly covers the whole urban ensemble, all the way to the boulevards, that was classified world site heritage by Unesco in 2007. The contemporary phenomenon of multiplying the means of protecting world heritage sites has grown to an unprecedented magnitude, inciting discussions and reflection regarding the character of contemporary society and on critical projects that offer potential solutions in order to make a world heritage site authentic, honest and lively..
Bordeaux, April 2016
Chantal callais, Thierry Jeanmonod
Based on Bordeaux, patrimoine mondial (La Crèche, Geste éditions)
Tome 1 – La fabrication de la ville (2012)
Tome 2 – Habiter le patrimoine (2014)
Tome 3- La ville monumentale (2016)