After ten years of extensive refurbishment work, the Muséum de Bordeaux - Sciences et Nature , the city’s natural history museum, reope...

Inside Bordeaux’s fully-revamped natural history museum


After ten years of extensive refurbishment work, the Muséum de Bordeaux - Sciences et Nature, the city’s natural history museum, reopened to the general public in March 2019. Invisible Bordeaux was lucky enough be given a private tour of the museum, so this way please for an exclusive heads-up! 

The rebirth of the Muséum is the latest chapter in its long history, which stretches back to the end of the 18th century when two eminent local dignitaries - the academic Professeur Latapie and the ship-owner Bernard Journu-Auber - donated their private collections to the city on the premise that they be put on public display. Bordeaux upheld that promise, initially in the Hôtel de l’Académie on Place Bardineau, before transferring the pieces to a former private mansion house, Hôtel de Lisleferme, within the grounds of the nearby Jardin Public. This move occurred in 1862 and the ever-expanding inventory of the Muséum has remained there ever since.


Fast-forward then to the early years of the 21st century, by which time the ageing premises were no longer fit for purpose. The decision was therefore made to renovate and extend the museum, with a view to meeting new and stringent safety norms for visitors and exhibits alike whilst enhancing the building’s green credentials, to make the visitor experience as enjoyable and accessible as possible, and to totally revise and modernize the circuit to appeal to new audiences and expectations. All of the above was to be achieved by combining the respective talents of architect Sébastien Loiseau and his agency Basalt Architecture, the Franco-German interior designers Die Werft, the local graphic design agency Studio Kubik, multimedia specialists Drôle de Trame and digital interaction agency Opixido.

The 16-million-euro overhaul eventually took the best part of a decade. That may seem like a long time, but many factors came into play, as was explained to me by Julien Diez, head of multimedia infrastructure and lighting, as we toured the Muséum: “As well as the refurbishment and redesign of the main building, a whole new 1,000-square-metre conservation unit was built from scratch on a plot of land in northern Bordeaux, near Pont d’Aquitaine suspension bridge. And the transfer alone of the million specimens that form the museum’s collection of exhibits was a long, painstaking and laborious process.”

Part of a colour-coded permanent exhibit in the reception area.
Furthermore, interior work on the main building was also delayed by a major hailstorm in May 2018 which resulted in substantial flooding and damage. This was an unexpected event which, Julien says, “had a massive impact on team morale, but everybody quickly pulled together to overcome this massive setback”. 

What can visitors expect? At any given time, the museum showcases around 4,000 exhibits, and given the aforementioned extent of the full collection, a number of temporary (lasting four to ten months) and semi-permanent (duration of three to five years) exhibitions are planned on various themes, meaning that no two visits will ever be exactly the same. The first, long-term semi-permanent display is focused on the Aquitaine coast, utilizing modern staging techniques to highlight local species of wildlife. 

Part of the "Littoral Aquitain" exhibit.
On the top floor of the building, the impressive “Galerie Souverbie” delivers the Muséum’s permanent fixtures, featuring timeless cabinet displays that hark back to museums of old, but that are combined here with intricate lighting, modern video and cutting-edge multimedia resources that bring the exhibits in line with 21st-century technological capabilities. Julien mentions that, in all, the Muséum now boasts no less than “22 interactive terminals, 18 video displays and 10 listening stations comprising content that will be evolving over time for various audiences and events”.

Some of the permanent exhibits in the magnificent "Galerie Souverbie".
During my visit the team was trying out various lighting configurations, making for atmospheric shots such as this one!
There are many other innovations to be witnessed, and which digital communications trainee Marthe Spielmann also proudly details during our visit. One is the “Early Years Museum” area on the ground floor, “where everything in terms of messaging and format has been adapted to children aged six and under, working around the theme of gestation, birth, growth and development”. 

Inside the Early Years Museum.
Another in-house creation is what Marthe calls a “chariot de médiateur”, a tailor-made compact trolley system which museum staff can use for their talks, workshops and demonstrations, enabling
An ultra-mobile, space-saving
"chariot de médiateur"!
them to be far more mobile than previously, and freeing up more space for the exhibition proper. An additional change which has also freed up space is that all the museum’s administrative offices have been transferred to the neighbouring pavilion, meaning that in the main building almost every square inch is dedicated to the visitor experience, maximizing exhibition space and accessibility.

In fact, the Muséum has actually grown in surface area by opening up a whole new 500-square-metre exhibition area located underground, beneath the terrace area that lies in front of the building. Julien explains that this new set of rooms “will be used to host temporary exhibitions, starting out with a show entitled “Très Toucher” focused on the sense of touch, along with a look back on the renovation of the Muséum. Forthcoming exhibitions include one about laughter, and one about African wildlife”.

Down in the new basement exhibition area.
Further innovations lie behind the scenes, such as the installation of a drain water heat recovery system which is fed by pipes that cross the Jardin Public. The heat and energy extracted and harnessed from domestic waste water is regulated by heat pumps on site, and enables the Muséum to be heated during winter months and cooled during summer months, making this 18th-century building one of the most eco-friendly places around!      

Behind-the-scenes drain water heat recovery pumps!
Finally, one aspect which I have found particularly striking over recent months is the way the Muséum has embraced social media, regularly feeding their Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels with fun and informative updates about work in progress, whether showing exactly what it takes to displace a giraffe (AKA "Kailou") or an elephant ("Miss Fanny", previously a fairground attraction, acquired by the city upon her premature death aged 33 in 1892), to one-on-one interviews with members of the 20-strong “équipe fantastique” who have brought the Muséum back to life. Do check them out, although the content available there is, like this article, just a trailer for the real thing! 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Muséum de Bordeaux - sciences et nature / Natural History Museum, Jardin Public, Bordeaux.
> The Muséum is open every day except Mondays, 10:30-17:30 (October > March), 10:30-18:00 (April > September).
> Admission: 7 euros when temporary exhibitions are on (concessions 4 euros), 5 euros when there is no temporary exhibition (concessions 3 euros). Admission for children: 3 euros at all times.
> Big thanks to Julien Diez and Marthe Spielmann for warm welcome and the fantastic personal visit! 

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
> To sign off, there has been much media coverage of the Muséum in the weeks leading up to its reopening, but this Bordeaux Mag video report stands out as being a particularly good introduction: 

3 comments:

  1. J'y suis allée le jour d'après l'inauguration avec mon petit fils de 7 ans ! J'ai adoré ! Il faudra beaucoup de visites pour tout voir en détail ! J'ai beaucoup entendu parler anglais et américain ! Les touristes ont déjà intégré le Muséum dans leur visite à Bordeaux !

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    1. Hé hé ! Les Britanniques sont très friands des "natural history museums" lorsqu'ils voyagent, donc peu surpris d'apprendre qu'ils ont déjà découvert le lieu !

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  2. As always, super interesting and informative!!! Thanks a lot Tim. I'm planning to go there with my 3yo girl, hope she'll like it :)
    Ira from lost in Bordeaux

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