As so often, this article began with an old postcard, specifically this 1960s “ vue des grands blocs ” of Cité Pinçon in the Bastide quarte...

Cité de la Benauge: radical changes ahead for the model 1950s estate

As so often, this article began with an old postcard, specifically this 1960s “vue des grands blocs” of Cité Pinçon in the Bastide quarter of Bordeaux, the kind of high-rise view which is far removed from the customary sight of the city’s 18th-century façades.

Cité Pinçon and its sister estate Cité Blanche together form Cité de la Benauge (sometimes even referred to as “Cité-Jardin de la Benauge”), which at the time of writing comprises just under 1,200 homes. Until the 1950s, the area was vast marshland that belonged to one Jules Pinçon, hence the name given to the first development which included these two massive 10-storey blocks and six smaller-scale five-storey buildings.  

The same building today, known locally as one of the two paquebots (ocean liners).
The programme had been launched by the city to accommodate the fast-expanding urban population in the dynamic post-war years. The development extended beyond affordable housing to incorporate brand new schools, a shopping precinct, various amenities, a gymnasium and a nearby swimming pool. Between the buildings, a scenic park was created for children to let off steam, complete with a shallow water feature – nicknamed “Le Bassin d’Arcachon” because of its shape which was reminiscent of Arcachon Bay – and a circular area which became known as “Le Rond des Mamans” as it was here that mothers would come to relax with their young children.
Le Bassin d'Arcachon today and as it was on the 1960s postcard, and Le Rond des Mamans.
The self-contained estate was an immense source of pride for the city, and soon deemed such a success that VIP visitors came to take notes with a view of applying its principles elsewhere, the most notable example being Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev on March 26th 1960. And still today, Cité de la Benauge does still have that feel of being in a 1950s time-warp vision of what was then considered futuristic and visionary.

Left: Salle des Sports Jean Dauguet, right: École élémentaire Benauge.
Over the past 60 years, the estate has certainly developed a character of its own, as a virtually independent district which is unfamiliar territory for many Bordeaux citizens, but very much home for those who live there and have grown up there… many of whom reportedly wouldn’t dream of moving away. One who did though was Daniel Balavoine, who spent some of his formative childhood years here (his father reportedly worked at the Cité Administrative) before achieving success as a singer-songwriter in a career that was cut short by a helicopter crash when he was still just 33.

Cité de la Benauge is also at the heart of a massive regeneration programme which will result in a number of buildings being demolished. These include the estate’s much-loved Simply supermarket and neighbouring stores, the district library, the Jacques Ellul secondary school and, controversially, a whole apartment block in the Cité Blanche sector (which is reportedly in a bad state of disrepair). One of the estate’s most surprising sights will also disappear from view: the single row of houses on Rue Docteur Yersin, as explored by my friends over at Bordeaux 2066 in April 2014.

Set to disappear: the collège with the 160 apartments of Cité Blanche's "Barre D" in the background (also visible bottom left), and the shopping precinct including a Simply supermarket.
A rear-window view of Rue Docteur Yersin.
The regeneration programme is set to run until 2022, and the new-look estate will comprise an extra 622 new homes, taking the grand total to more than 1,600. Plans also include a radical overhaul of Parc Pinçon, and substantial renovation work on the gymnasium (Salle des Sports Jean Dauguet) and the swimming pool (Piscine Galin). When I was there, I was surprised to find the pool was already closed; during routine maintenance work in 2014, asbestos was found in the air ventilation ducts. So it will be out-of-bounds until late 2015 at the earliest, which is a shame for the local youth who regard it as an essential meeting point (many Benauge couples allegedly first met there...).
Piscine Galin, currently closed.
So Cité de la Benauge is set for a massive facelift, and will be a very different place a few years from now. In the meantime, when those buildings get knocked the sight will be both spectacular and moving, as people bid farewell to their home sweet homes. Let’s hope it’s ultimately for everyone’s good. 


  1. Great article Tim! My first two years in France was spent living in the Benauge and I have memorise crossing the park with my groceries from Simply market and doing laps at the pool.

    I agree that the area look tired but one would hope that the residents who have lived there will have the possibility to return. However, I would be inclined to think that they most likely will be shuffled out to make way for people that can afford the new apartments that will be built.

    1. Thanks Mike. I think so too, which is why I left that knowingly open statement at the end... you kind of know it's never going to be for everyone's good and that there are bound to be some losers.