In Pessac’s Bersol industrial estate, in the space of land flanked by the Rocade ring-road to the east, and the A63 motorway to the south, n...


In Pessac’s Bersol industrial estate, in the space of land flanked by the Rocade ring-road to the east, and the A63 motorway to the south, new, modern office developments are currently taking shape… although a lone air control tower-like structure remains from the previous incarnation of the area. What is the tower, why is it still standing, and what is it set to become? 

The tower is in fact a remnant of the time when the plot was home to the radar capabilities of Thomson-CSF, now known as Thales. The electronics systems group had opened the Pessac facility in 1974, around the same time as an aircraft electronics branch was also founded in Le Haillan. Teams from the two plants eventually relocated to a new facility in Mérignac in 2016, a modern campus-like setting which now provides a state-of-the-art working environment to some 2,800 people (myself included). 


The area which had therefore been vacated in Pessac became a core part of Bordeaux Métropole’s ‘Bordeaux Innocampus’ priority area for development (along with the zone neighbouring the airport and the area now known as Euratlantique near Saint-Jean railway station). As such, the former Thales site was demolished, the plot was acquired by a “Société d’économie mixte locale” known as Route des Lasers, and this resulted in the ‘Amperis’ project which is currently taking shape, aimed at providing offices and laboratories for innovative start-ups in the fields of cybersecurity, materials chemistry and biotechnologies. 


Construction work on the tower circa 1974 (photo courtesy Thales).

Initially, the tower too should have been demolished, but instead the Pessac town council and Bordeaux Métropole decided to retain it. In 2018, a call for projects was issued and the winning bid was that submitted by Legendre Immobilier to convert the tower into a panoramic restaurant, currently to be known as La Canopée, developed in association with one Jean-François Tastet, the owner of the popular Canopée Café in nearby Mérignac. Theoretically, the new office spaces and restaurant should have opened in 2021 but, as with so many other projects right now, everything has been pushed back. The most recent reports in Sud Ouest now earmark the first semester of 2023 for delivery.  


The way it was in 1973 (source: IGN Remonter Le Temps).

1976: the tower can be seen sandwiched by Thomson-CSF's two long, brand new buildings. 

The picture in 1989.

Less greenery still in 2012.
How the area currently looks on GoogleEarth; the buildings have gone but the tower remains.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the Bordeaux Innocampus zone was an integral part of the annual heritage days weekend, and a video presentation showcased on site provided an interesting, concise history of the reinforced concrete tower, explaining that it really came into its own in the early 1980s when series production began on the airborne radar for the Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft. The dedicated structure was more generally designed for the open-field testing procedures carried out on antennas and radars. 


Ten flights of twelve stairs (and an elevator) led up to the structure’s two hexagonal 300-square-metre platforms. A dozen or so people were permanently stationed on the lower storey, situated 21 metres above ground level. It was made up of six partitioned units, designed as anechoic chambers with walls that absorbed electromagnetic waves, making it possible to reproduce free-field conditions without causing echoes which could disturb measurements. Measurement beacons could also be positioned around the platform to receive signals emitted by pylons towards the tower. 


The top floor, 25 metres up, was used to test radars, and would only be used by groups of two people at a time. Unlike the first, this level was not split into individual units but was a fully open-plan space. Tests were conducted by liaising with ground-level transponder beacons placed around the tower. 


Heading there recently to check out the work in progress, it was relatively easy to approach the tower (I certainly wasn’t the first and probably not the last to creep through a gaping hole in the fence). The tarmac surrounding the structure has been broken up, no doubt to prevent the travelling community from setting up shop on the resulting wasteland. I did harbour vague hopes of accessing the tower itself, but the ground level entrance has been totally bricked up to thwart trespassing bloggers. 


While on the other side of a tall fence, the Amperis office developments are clearly taking shape, at this point in time nothing very much appears to be happening to the tower, which still sports its original mustard and beige stripes, along with a little bit of low-lying graffiti – but actually not that much. It clearly hasn’t become a massive spot for urbex enthusiasts or graffiti artists. The architects’ impressions of how it will look in the future suggest the tower is set to be painted white. 


So, how desirable a destination will the panoramic restaurant be? Well, given that you tend to dine in a panoramic restaurant to enjoy the view, the hopes can’t be that high. Other than looking out over office blocks and treetops, there can’t be much to see from up there (although it could be a good vantage point to check out the traffic situation on the A63). But as the surrounding area fills up with suitably upwardly-mobile engineers and executives, there will undoubtedly be a receptive audience for lunchtime dates – I’m just not so sure it’s the kind of place you’d head to for a romantic evening meal. 


Whatever, it will in time be fascinating to see what becomes of this vestige of the past. Perhaps the next time I return, in 2023, instead of being greeted by a brick wall, a maître d’ will be there to welcome me!


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Radar test tower, avenue Gustave-Eiffel, Pessac

> Cet article est également disponible en français ! 


  The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back! In this latest French-language episode we meet up with Bordeaux-based author Sophie Poirier to tal...

 
The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back! In this latest French-language episode we meet up with Bordeaux-based author Sophie Poirier to talk about her latest book, 'Le Signal'

 

The book talks about the intense bond which developed between Sophie and this now-iconic residential block, Le Signal, which is somehow still standing on the waterfront in Soulac-sur-Mer, although its residents were evicted in 2014 subsequent to a violent storm and has remained empty ever since. From then on, it became a poignant symbol of climate change and coastal erosion, as well as being synonymous with a lengthy legal battle to see owners being justly compensated for their loss.

 

The story of the building has regularly featured on the Invisible Blog, such as when a little bit of naughty urbex crept into my cycling tour of the Gironde Estuary, but most notably when I got up at an unearthly hour to view a large-scale artistic installation involving video footage by Olivier Crouzel, and a spoken-word recording written and recorded by none other than Sophie Poirier. The subject inevitably came up in our talk! 

 

So this way please to hear all about Sophie's career to date, her upcoming projects, and above all some fascinating insights into 'Le Signal'. Enjoy the listen!



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You can also listen to the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice!

 

> Check out Sophie Poirier's output on her website: lexperiencedudesordre.com

 

> 'Le Signal', published by Editions Inculte, is available in all reputable real-world and online bookshops including Mollat

 

> On Olivier Crouzel's website, check out the page given over to his Le Signal-related productions, along with the separate page that covers his '18 rideaux' installation.


> Here is footage of the March 2015 early-morning event in Soulac-sur-Mer that was dreamt up by Olivier Crouzel and Sophie Poirier:


Le Signal / Marée du siècle / 5h41 du matin from Olivier Crouzel on Vimeo.


 Sophie Poirier portrait photo: © Claire Lafargue

To the north of Bordeaux, close to where the Aubiers high-rise estate was built in the 1970s, three features on the landscape show how much ...


To the north of Bordeaux, close to where the Aubiers high-rise estate was built in the 1970s, three features on the landscape show how much the city has evolved and continues to evolve, as well as demonstrating how some temporary solutions prove to be far more durable than initially expected. This is the tale of a bridge, some wasteland, and a flyover, i.e. the three areas highlighted above as they appeared at the time when the aerial photo was taken: 1984.
 

The bridge


The bridge in question is Pont de Cracovie (Krakow). This bridge was completed in 1967 to cater for a sudden influx of traffic entering Bordeaux from the north, as a result of the brand new Pont d’Aquitaine making it possible to cross the Garonne from Lormont, carrying road traffic arriving from the A10 motorway onto the first sections of the Rocade ring-road. 


While it made sense to open up a new way of accessing Bordeaux, there was an obstacle to overcome: a freight railway line which provided a means of connecting the docklands area of the city with Saint-Jean railway station to the south. A no-frills road bridge was therefore delivered to get from one side to the other: a big hand please for Pont de Cracovie.

Cracovie tram stop can now be found where the bridge once stood.
Anyway, a bridge is all very well, but while it was synonymous with access for some, it became regarded as a physical barrier for others. For the first residents of the Aubiers estate, the bridge added to the sense of isolation ahead of further developments taking shape. They were physically cut off from the rest of the city, with just a single bus line providing any form of connection. Miss that last bus home, and there was no alternative other than to walk, head under the bridge, clamber across the railway line, and venture through a dangerous and inhospitable environment. 


The bridge was eventually demolished in 2006 to make way for the new tram network, which was installed at ground level, with the use of the freight railway line having ceased in the interim period. Aptly, the resulting tram stop has also been given the name ‘Cracovie’. The bridge coming down was a revelation to some. In a video which looks over the history of the Aubiers estate, one witness compared the bridge to “a frontier. As soon as it came down, as if by chance, we noticed Bruges was just next door, along with the Grand Parc estate… It’s strange, the bridge caused problems… it left its mark on us.”

The bridge being demolished in 2006. Source of this picture and the one of the bridge further up the page: Bordeaux Ma Ville on Dailymotion.

These aerial shots (to be found on the IGN Remonter Le Temps website) date from 1961, 1965, 1976 and 2012. Cracovie bridge can be seen in the 1965 picture, but was not yet in service. The Aubiers estate is visible in the 1970s shot. By the 2012 picture, the bridge had made way for the tram network. See also the video compilation of these and further photos at the end of the article!

The wasteland


What was also keeping the Aubiers residents trapped were the extensive railway sidings that stretched alongside their buildings. The aerial photos above suggest that the rails were removed for good sometime around 2010, but nothing immediately took their place on this land which officially comprises two plots; one of which belongs to Bordeaux Métropole, the other being under the ownership of Bordeaux Port Authority. 


In recent years, the land gradually became a migrant shantytown made up of makeshift accommodation hand-crafted by Romanian and Bulgarian Roms. By early 2021, it is though that up to 400 people were living on site, and over time tension mounted between the shantytown’s inhabitants and their Aubiers neighbours. Reports suggest that this was mainly due to music and noise at all hours, but also the smoke and odours caused by the plastic coating being burnt off wiring to recover copper.


Late in 2021, the shantytown was cleared for good although subsequent to a series of fires resulting from conflicts between migrants and locals. At the time of writing, the amount of debris that remains is incredible: cars and vans that have been gutted, caravans, shopping trolleys, random items of furniture, etc. But there are also official signs of what is coming next (pictured above), which is said to be two office blocks and a car park. The new premises will reportedly be home to the Gironde Social Security offices and a circus arts school. 


The flyover


Towards the eastern tip of the soon-to-be-former wasteland is a sight that has never, ever featured on a list of things to see in Bordeaux, and yet its resilience certainly deserves to be rewarded with a few paragraphs on the Invisible Bordeaux blog. We give you l’Autopont de Latule or, if you prefer, the Latule flyover. 


This too was a by-product of Bordeaux’s development to the north, and the early-1970s need to facilitate the movement of automobile traffic between central Bordeaux, its “boulevards”, and the Rocade, or indeed the nascent Bordeaux-Lac business, exhibition and hotel complexes. At this strategic point where a number of thoroughfares meet, this then-futuristic flyover was installed in 1973 (it opened on Saturday November 10th 1973 according to Frederick Llorens's excellent 'L'automobile à Bordeaux')… which means it is now coming up to 50 years of age!


The single-lane metallic structure is 254 metres long, 3.5 metres wide, and is made up of 13 sections which vary in length between 12 and 30 metres. As it was initially designed to be used for a short period, by putting in so much overtime it also has to undergo regular maintenance work – which keeps the flyover in the news given that closures result in substantial tailbacks (and affect the travel plans of the passengers of the 13,000 cars who use the flyover each day). It was also fully overhauled in 1984 and 1996.

But possibly the most remarkable thing is simply that the flyover is still in position and doing its job. There has been talk of the junction being turned into a massive roundabout, or else of automobile traffic being entirely diverted to free up the space, which would then be handed over to pedestrians and cyclists. But it’s still there, looking slightly out of place, like it should be in some vast American metropolis, a remnant of a bygone but not-so-distant era when urban infrastructure choices were fully focused on cars. Given the current climate and the essential shift to alternative means of urban transport, will we still be talking about the Latule flyover 50 years from now?  

And now, enjoy a timelapse video showing how much the area has evolved between 1924 and the present day! 

Click here if video does not display properly on your device.

 

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: site of former Pont de Cracovie, Cracovie wasteland, Latule flyover.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

  Among the glossy books published lately, one managed to tick many boxes that are dear to Invisible Bordeaux. Sport: check! History: chec...

 

Among the glossy books published lately, one managed to tick many boxes that are dear to Invisible Bordeaux. Sport: check! History: check! Heritage: check! Oddball stories: check too! For we give you "Lescure Insolite" written by the journalist, author and sports historian Laurent Brun, which offers a real journey through time to discover some of the most surprising episodes in the rich history of Bordeaux’s mythical municipal stadium, Parc Lescure for some, these days known as Stade Chaban-Delmas!

 

In order to know everything there is to know about "Lescure Insolite", I recently spoke with Laurent. Our French-language discussion can be heard in its entirety in the brand new episode of the Invisible Bordeaux podcast (see further down the page) but, as a bit of a teaser, here is a little of what he revealed about the book!

The background to the book

This book is the fourth in a series started in 2015 with my colleague Julien Bée, who had proposed, to tie in with the move of the Girondins de Bordeaux football club from Parc Lescure to Matmut Atlantique, to find a way of highlighting the stadium. We had initially targeted the legendary players of the Girondins de Bordeaux, initially in the form of audio reports intended for the radio, but this was never used. That's where the idea of the book was born, and it evolved into a multi-tome project. 

 

We self-published the first volume, La Fabuleuse aventure des supporters des Girondins de Bordeaux. This work convinced Editions Sud Ouest, with whom we already had an agreement, to publish the following books, "Le rendez-vous des légendes" with a historical, heritage and sports angle; then "Lescure 80 ans", where we go beyond football to talk about other sports, culture, etc. Then my idea was to focus on more unusual and little-known chapters in the history of the stadium, hence "Lescure Insolite".

 


What are the most surprising subjects you uncovered?

With the help of the Préservons Lescure association, one investigation started with a photo from the early 1960s showing three men playing basketball who were in fact Dutch judokas - Anton Geesink, Hein Essink and Jan van Ierland - who at the time were taking classes at the Lescure dojo under the guidance of master Haku Michigami, who had become a technical advisor to the Dutch judo federation. He had detected enormous potential in these Dutchmen of rather modest origins and thought he could train them and make them good competitors. They then beat the Japanese on their own soil in the 1964 Olympic Games, the first time the Japanese were defeated in their king sport. The Dutch judokas went on to become world stars! 

 

Let's not forget the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition match in 1951 – the book includes a beautiful photo of them in action on the annex sports field. These basketball players were of the calibre of Michael Jordan, they are stars that got me dreaming while consulting the archives... bearing in mind that they were also managed at the time by Jesse Owens, the four-time medalist sprinter at the 1938 Olympic Games!

 

An event recounted in the book that you would have loved to have attended

The game between Girondins de Bordeaux and the France national team ahead of the 1966 World Cup! The coach of the French team had targeted the Girondins, then the best team of the country with FC Nantes, and whose style of play was reminiscent of that of the Italians, that is to say tough, solid, strong defensively... in order to be best equipped to compete with Italy or England. This was not a gala match but very much a warm-up preparation match, the Girondins put the French team very much to the test (although France ended up winning 3-2). There were exceptional players in both teams. 

 

Any upcoming projects?

I have written a couple of other books about things that happened at Lescure, but from a different perspective. I am waiting for new documents to complete them. But at the moment I am finalizing a surfing book, more precisely on the history of the Lacanau Pro competition. So I’m setting aside football and picking up a surfboard! I will also be shifting to rugby in the future, and I will keep you posted!


Over the course of the discussion, Laurent also shared his experience of the stadium, his feelings on its transition from a multi-purpose complex and football ground to a rugby stadium, whereabouts on the pitch he would pitch a tent if he could spend a night there... and we also talked at length about the Girondins de Bordeaux Football Club, focusing in particular on the achievements, at the end of the 1980s, of the first Englishman to have sported the Bordeaux chevron on his chest! Enjoy the listen!



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You can also listen to the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice! 

The town of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, to the north-west of Bordeaux, is a typical suburban succession of housing estates, shops, and offices. ...

The town of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, to the north-west of Bordeaux, is a typical suburban succession of housing estates, shops, and offices. It could be argued it is best-known for its Carré des Jalles multi-purpose events venue, and its massive Leclerc shopping mall. However, as somebody who cycles through the town ten times each week on my way to and from work, it’s safe to say that over the years I’ve also come across some of the more unusual sights to take in, of which here are ten!
 

An 80-metre-long street art wall


Alongside the Bordeaux to Lacanau cycle path that runs through the centre of Saint-Médard, a long wall was handed over to street artists to produce a mural which I reckon stretches over at least 80 metres. It’s very cool. The wall was painted in August 2016 by artists operating as part of the Transfert #6 collective within the framework of the “Hors Les Murs” campaign to take street art out of the inner city and into the suburbs, and for the Saint-Médard project the designs are all on the theme of transport. The featured artists are (checks notes) 4Letters, Charles Foussard, Disket, Jone, Landroid, Mioter, Obad, Odeg, Rooble, Scan-R, Skinjackin, Tack, Tati Prout, and Trackt.


An old steam train


In a past life, the aforementioned cycle path was a railway line, which began operations in 1885, passenger traffic ceasing in 1954 and the line being decommissioned for good in 1979. In Saint-Médard, the former railway station is now a restaurant, and a 1913 Couillet 030T steam locomotive remains on permanent static display, although in fact it has only been in the area since 1985 when it was purchased by the municipality from a Belgian railway operator. Another former station can be spotted further down the line in the Issac district, as pictured in a previous Invisible Bordeaux report.


Town centre buildings that are still hanging on


This photo was taken right in the town centre of Saint-Médard, where everything has gradually become very modern and uniform over recent years. So how much longer will this building – which has now been bricked up but still displays its “Atelier de Menuiseries” sign of bygone years – remain in place? And to the left, behind those tall gates, is Domaine du Bourdieu, an 18th-century private mansion (I seem to recollect reading that the owners have always been British) which boasts substantial grounds that many property developers are keeping a very close eye on!


Multiple water towers



If you’re a key aerospace player dealing with highly explosive and flammable materials on a daily basis, it’s probably best to have not just one water tower, but two, or possibly even three or more. Indeed, two water towers are located just inside the tall perimeter fences of massive grounds belonging to ArianeGroup, although many locals still refer to the area as “la Poudrerie” given its centuries-old history of producing gunpowder and explosives (and some maps still label the area as "Société Nationale des Poudres et Explosifs"). But there is at least one more just a little further back from the main road... let’s just say that the area is all very heavy on water towers! These days the facility, which is synonymous with an enormous no-go area, produces the fuel and gases used to launch space rockets and missiles.


An old entrance to the gunpowder factory


And what was once the main entrance to “la Poudrerie” still comprises its majestic old gate proudly displaying the silhouettes of cannons, flanked by pillars topped off with, well, what look like flaming bombs. The courtyard behind the gate is surrounded by buildings that are now used by local associations. Just across the road, the grounds around a building that used to be part of that complex, la maison de l’Ingénieur, were converted into a pleasant park that has been open to the general public since 2016: le Parc de l’Ingénieur.  


A massive sculpture on a roundabout


In the Cérillan district of Saint-Médard, one of the things you possibly least expect to come up against is an 8.50-metre-tall sculpture positioned in the middle of a roundabout. The steel and bronze artwork is made up of two figures, one of which is topped off by the head of a stag, while the other appears to depict a human hand and head. Installed in 1999, the piece, entitled ‘Le Grand Sérillan’ was produced by artist Bernard Vié and represents, in his words, “the light and elegant expression of two walkers” (l’expression légère et élégante de deux promeneurs). It might be noted that it took quite a bit of online detective work to gather those sketchy details, as there is absolutely no information available by the roundabout itself… 


A château and a wartime bunker 


If you’re ever at the Brico Leclerc DIY store stocking up on paint and the like, be sure to gaze beyond the car park where, behind a tall fence, the fortified Château de la Mothe-Gajac sits, minding its own business, surrounded by its very own moat and no doubt reflecting on its 600 years of history, which have at least been lovingly detailed in a standalone Wikipedia page. Once you’ve got over the sight of the château – which apparently now hosts corporate events – then look around towards the bunker that serves as a reminder that Saint-Médard’s expertise in explosives, and its location on the Bordeaux-Lacanau railway line, meant it was of strategic importance for the Germans in the Second World War.


A retro sports complex


The massive Robert Monseau sports complex in the town centre comprises separate football and rugby stadiums, tennis courts, a rollerskating rink, and much more besides. What I like is the old-school design of the grand main entrance (currently serving as an overspill car park for the nearby Covid vaccination centre), and other nice touches such as the football stadium’s aquarium-like ticket office. It all feels like we’ve never quite left the 1970s.   

An old village square


What we now know as Saint-Médard-en-Jalles is in fact made up of a number of villages, each of which is now regarded as a neighbourhood. As well as Issac and Cérillan, these include the old villages of Hastignan, Magudas, Caupian, and this one, Corbiac. This small square, complete with its metal cross and stone benches, was presumably a meeting point for locals way back when. If you look closely at the wall of the neighbouring building, which is now a private home, you can just make out the words “café” and “épicerie”, suggesting it too was far more active in past times. 


David Selor artwork

 


The part-human, part-fox “Mimil” character created by street artist David Selor is a familiar sight in central Bordeaux, mainly on disused buildings and doorways that are destined to be transformed or pulled down. Occasionally he also produces more durable made-to-measure artwork, such as the 2019 piece to be spotted in Saint-Médard in a short tunnel on rue Paul-Dethomas that leads to the car park of an apartment block. 

 

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

For more than 35 years, arguably the most prominent of Bordeaux’s waterfront buildings was to be found in the Bacalan district to the north ...

For more than 35 years, arguably the most prominent of Bordeaux’s waterfront buildings was to be found in the Bacalan district to the north of the city. This was the massive Cité Lumineuse apartment block, which stood around the spot where the Brandenburg bus and tram interchange station can be found today. How did it come about and why is it no longer there? 


The surrounding area was once the Claveau winegrowing domain, but as the city of Bordeaux expanded northwards throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Bacalan district took shape, and was mainly made up of low-rise residential streets. By the 1950s though, city mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas had other ideas and, at a time when France was experiencing a housing shortage, regarded the urban future as being synonymous with the age of high-rise buildings. This is what resulted in social housing complexes such as Grand-Parc, Cité de la Benauge, and les Aubiers, along with the complete overhaul of the Mériadeck quarter in the city centre.


The city council-owned Cité Lumineuse was the most impressive standalone project of them all. Designed by architects André Conte, Paul Daurel, and Jean-Jacques Prévot, it was 200 metres long, 11 metres wide, 15 storeys high, and comprised 360 apartments that were labelled as being “LOGECO”, for “logements économiques et familiaux”, i.e. affordable accommodation aimed at low-income families. Much like the course of the Garonne river, the Cité was gently curved inwards, with its eastern flank enjoying an ideal vantage point to view the rising sun… while the sunsets were obviously best viewed from the concave western side! 

Aerial photos down the years. Top row: 1950 before the Cité was built, and in all its glory in 1976. Bottom row: shortly before demolition in 1994 (note the football pitch between the building and the river), and the GoogleEarth view today. Archive shots downloaded from the IGN Remonter le Temps website.

In fact, the block’s larger apartments (so-called F4 and F5 layouts, i.e. three- and four-bedroom flats), of which there were 240, enjoyed the relative luxury of looking out on both sides, a sunlight-guided architectural principle (which was first promoted by Adolphe Augustin-Rey as “l’axe heliothermique”) that had previously been applied by the influential architect Le Corbusier at the Cité Radieuse in Marseille. The re-use of that concept in all likelihood inspired the eerily similar name of Cité Lumineuse; there is no hard evidence to back this up but it is a credible theory that local authority Marc Saboya puts forward in his book ‘Chaban le bâtisseur’.     


La Cité Lumineuse welcomed its first residents in 1960 and, over the years, became a cherished home to thousands of people in spite of its many shortcomings, such as the lack of balconies (which were never part of the masterplan in order to keep down costs) and the fact that – again, according to Saboya – the kitchens and bathrooms were tiny and the elevators only stopped every three floors! It was also a lively community hub. Between the building and the river, a sandy football pitch with full-size goals was the focal point of many a local youth’s downtime. Meanwhile, the older generations would meet to play pétanque on the neighbouring boules pitches. And the surrounding greenery was an idyllic spot for outdoor events such as residents’ picnics and parties. Over on the other side, from 1981 onwards, the forecourt of the residence became home to the weekly Marché de la Lumineuse market, which started out with just four vendors but soon grew and became a popular draw.
 

Sud Ouest archive shot of the market as it was, and the view from more or less the same vantage point today.

Sud Ouest archive shots of the football and pétanque pitches in use, and the same view today.

However, the 1980s were not kind to la Cité Lumineuse. The building was rapidly deteriorating, and it got to the stage where local authorities considered repair and renovation work would prove more costly than just demolishing the place and starting anew. Although the decision to demolish the building would not be officially finalised for a number of years, from the mid-1980s onwards whenever residents departed, they were not replaced and the apartments they vacated were bricked up. 


The dwindling number of residents who remained come the early 1990s were actively encouraged to look elsewhere, the local council facilitating moves to new developments in the Cité Claveau estate nearby or over in the right bank districts of the city. By this time, the residence was already a ghost of its former self, with the notoriously windy ground floor concourse becoming the territory of local drug dealers. To say the building had become inhospitable would be an understatement, and in the summer of 1996 la Cité Lumineuse’s final surviving resident, an 83-year-old gentleman by the name of Mr San José, departed for good.
 

In its latter years, the trials and tribulations of la Cité Lumineuse became a recurring subject in local newspaper Sud Ouest. 

In September of that year demolition work began, although progress was hampered and delayed by the presence of asbestos. The task was also rendered particularly difficult by having to remove one by one the tops of the 622 piles that had been used for the building’s foundations in an area which was inevitably humid and prone to flooding. But by February 1997 the apartment block was no more, and the local authorities began looking forward to the future and the new development that would take its place, comprising 116 homes within a 2.5-hectare landscaped environment.


The demise of la Cité Lumineuse had inspired a number of creative projects at the time, such as songs written by the local rap collective Génération Posse, and a book, ‘La Lumineuse, cite habitée’, compiling the writings of a number of local youths conducted under the guidance of the bestselling author Hervé Le Corre, who had previously spent 17 years in the Bacalan district of Bordeaux and retained strong ties with the neighbourhood and its people… so much so that Bacalan and the Cité Lumineuse often feature extensively in his fictional work.


Rewinding – or rather fast-forwarding – back to 2021, other than individual memories and a helping or two of nostalgia, what remains of la Cité Lumineuse? Well, the answer is next to nothing. Taking up position opposite the local post office and annex of the city hall with a view to reproducing a photo spotted in a 2013 issue of a local magazine, what is most striking is the sheer void where the building used to be.

Slightly blurred archive photo of la Cité Lumineuse with the post office and Mairie de Quartier in the foreground, as credited to Labarthe and featured in a 2013 issue of 'Bacalan' magazine. And, once again, the same view today. 
Behind the tram and bus stops, a modern residential complex - along with a Lidl supermarket - is tucked away behind the trees. Alongside the Garonne, where the pétanque and football pitches once were, pleasant tree-lined paths are dotted with benches, and sided by just enough greenery to keep dogwalkers satisfied.



But a couple of traces of the Lumineuse era are still forthcoming, even 25 years on. The first is a few blocks away on Place Muscaillet, which is now home to the Marché de la Lumineuse and its vendors every Friday morning. Despite the passage of time and a couple of relocations, the market has symbolically retained its name.


The Lumineuse flag is still flying on Place Muscaillet.
The other is to be spotted in an alleyway that runs between two blocks of housing that now stand where the Cité once was. Encased by one of the modern constructions is a high voltage transformer station, which clearly predates its imposing neighbour by some years. On the panel affixed to the door, just above the reminder of the imminent risk of death, is the code name of the station. In black typeface on a yellow background, the letters spell out the name “Lumineuse”. The luminous building discreetly shines on...  


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Cité Lumineuse, Rue Achard, Bordeaux.

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Source of lead photo: www.delcampe.net

> Thanks to my good friend Laurent B. for tips and stories!

Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-...


Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-city land into a mini-forest. It is time to go for a walk in – or at least alongside – the tiniest of woods! 


These are early days for now, but the nascent mini-forest was inaugurated by city mayor Pierre Hurmic in March 2021. It is located between Saint-Jean railway station and Sacré-Coeur church, on the triangular space where rues Billaudel, Fieffé and Francin intersect. 


So, what’s it all about? According to a piece published by The Guardian, tiny, dense forests like this are “springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis”. Their format and concept “are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere”. In France, the landscape artist Gilles Clément is also quoted as a key influence, notably with regard to his "jardin en mouvement" concept, but internationally the term “Miyawaki forest” has become the byword for this type of urban mini-forest. 


The way it will be: artist's impression of how the mini-forest will look in the future (source: bordeaux.fr).
The way it is: picture taken in August 2021.


Cross-referencing with the Wikipedia page about Akira Miyawaki (who died in July 2021) provides a means of understanding the basics: the Miyawaki method is based on the reconstitution of "indigenous forests by indigenous trees", with saplings being planted very closely together, and a diverse range of species being used to recreate the multiple layers of a natural forest. Furthermore, the practice “produces a rich, dense and efficient protective pioneer forest in 20 to 30 years, where natural succession would need 200 years in temperate Japan and 300 to 500 years in the tropics”.


Closer to the 45th parallel here in Bordeaux, where the recently-elected Hurmic is famously a member of the Europe Écologie-Les Verts political party, this first mini-forest is one of several such projets and forms part of a wider programme to bring more greenery into the inner-city, a programme which has been codenamed “Bordeaux Grandeur Nature”. When inaugurating the forest-to-be, Hurmic declared to the media that “it has added value for a whole district, there is an obligation to create islands of freshness,” pointing out that “a 100 m² area of forest reduces the temperature in adjacent streets by 1°C”.


The way it was: a GoogleEarth view of the parking spaces that have made way for the Miyawaki forest.


This inaugural Bordeaux project, which covers an area of 180m² and has cost around €50,000 to create, comprises more than 500 forest plants and shrubs, including varieties of tree such as pubescent oaks, sorb trees, field maples, wild cherry trees, and common dogwood. It has been given the name of Wangari Muta Maathai in honour of the Kenyan activist and 2004 Nobel Peace prize-winner who was instrumental in the reforestation of her home country. 


When visiting the mini-forest on a quiet Sunday morning, the first impression is that of viewing a slightly disorganised plot of land, but it does not take long to understand that that is the whole point: the plantation process is supposed to be random, and the natural woodland will form as natural selection among the seedlings enables the best-suited to flourish and develop quickly. Nothing for now is anything taller than about 60 or 70 centimetres, so it is difficult to imagine that a few years from now a number of trees will be towering over the square (or rather, the triangle). 

 


But the Miyawaki forest does already bring a splash of colour to the area. Other than the inevitable green, there are spots of white, yellow, orange and violet dotted here and there. And of course, after taking in the initial view one is tempted to look closer and hone in on specific plants, and that is when you discover that the place has already come to life, with wasps and bees collecting pollen, and flies and butterflies fleeting in between the leaves and branches. I suddenly found myself drawn to the pleasures of inner-city macrophotography, a true first! 

 

Just a couple of typical central Bordeaux street scenes.


Temporary information panels are on hand to complete the view and, for now at least, the low wooden perimeter fence is topped off by a host of toilet rolls that have been expertly and creatively decorated, presumably by children from a local school. The place is quiet but for the buzzing of winged insects, which makes the mini-forest feel very active. It’s unusual and, all in all, quite cool.  

 


Media coverage would suggest that most locals have warmly welcomed the initiative, although some instinctively grumbled about the dozen-or-so parking spots which were sacrificed, and others were cynical about the time it would take for the Miyawaki forest to reach maturity. However, in these times when barely a day goes by without there being news about another natural disaster or extreme weather event, surely everything that can be done to fight against the steamroller of climate change is to be applauded.

 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Micro-forêt Wangari Muta Maathai, rue Fieffé, Bordeaux

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Further information about the mini-forest on the city of Bordeaux website. 

> Below is Sud Ouest footage of the first plantations taking place in March 2021... a great deal has changed in just five months!



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