A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole to head inside one of the city’s most famous la...

Three things you (possibly) didn’t know about Bordeaux’s Pont de Pierre

A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole to head inside one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Pont de Pierre, and met Laurent Rascouailles, the person who is in charge of visits to civil engineering works for Bordeaux Métropole.

The resulting video interview was subsequently published by Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole on social media, and here is what Laurent taught us about the inner secrets of the emblematic bridge.

1. The Pont de Pierre is hollow!
Inside view of the Pont de Pierre!
Laurent Rascouailles: "Two tunnels run from one bank to the other inside the bridge, carrying water lines through the first, and telecommunications and electrical cables through the other. The tunnels are low-ceilinged, 1.10 metre high on average, and the only people who use the tunnels these days are the technicians who monitor the bridge. Generally they cross the bridge once a year, to check the inside of the structure. They go inside each pillar, and it takes them half a day to make it all the way across the bridge.

"In August 1944, the Spanish guerilla Pablo Sanchez saved the bridge simply by walking through these tunnels. The Germans had positioned explosives inside each pillar in order to blow up the bridge. Pablo Sanchez defused all the explosives; sadly he was shot when exiting the bridge on the left bank. There is a plaque in his honour on the waterfront and his name was recently given to a road in the new dockside developments."

2. Instruments permanently monitor the bridge
Laurent Rascouailles: "There are instruments inside each pillar and in its abutments, to monitor all the bridge's movements. There is a displacement sensor in each abutment and each pillar, to keep track of how much the pillars are sinking into the ground. Then there is an inclinometer to know which way the pillars are leaning in relation to the river, whether it's upstream or downstream. And a mechanical level enables us to monitor the transversal and longitudinal rotations of its supports."

3. Steps that now lead nowhere... used to provide underground access to toll collection offices!
Stairway to nowhere.
Laurent Rascouailles: "When construction work began, the State funded the project. But work came to a halt when Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and it was the shipowner Pierre Balguerie-Stuttenberg who enabled work to start again, by seeking donations. He founded the Compagnie du Pont de Bordeaux, made up of Bordeaux traders and other shipowners. Thanks to the company, building work began again but, in return, they demanded a toll be implemented for a 99-year period. Therefore, when the bridge opened on May 1st 1822, everyone had to pay in order to cross.

"The toll system stopped in August 1861 when the State acquired the bridge with the support of the city of Bordeaux and the département. One of the conditions was to make the bridge free to cross, so that Bordeaux could expand on the right bank, towards La Bastide. The toll booths were then used to collect octroi duty tax from 1861 until its abolition in 1927, and the buildings were finally demolished in 1954 when the bridge was widened, from a width of around 15 metres to 19 metres. At ground level, the pavements you walk on these days were added when that extension took place. The duty collection buildings had become a hindrance for movement and, therefore, hindered access to the bridge."

And here is the video interview featuring some incredible archive footage (and English subtitles):

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

> Video produced by Sandie Fabre for la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole in conjunction with Invisible Bordeaux, Bernard Avril and IJBA, originally published on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/228215463

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On almost every street in Bordeaux there are bricked-up windows that add a sense of mystery to the associated buildings. What can the sto...

The phantom windows of Bordeaux

On almost every street in Bordeaux there are bricked-up windows that add a sense of mystery to the associated buildings. What can the story be? 

As reported in a recent Invisible Bordeaux item, in most cases the windows were bricked up in the 19th century as a means of paying less so-called "window tax" (impôt sur les fenêtres), an unpopular
Rue Croix-de-Seguey.
means of taxation that had first been used at the time of the Roman Empire and that was applied in France from 1798 to 1926. The system served as a simpler way of calculating how much tax was owed than entering and measuring the surface area of each property.

While this is the primary reason for so many windows having disappeared into thin air, there can be others: in some cases, owners may have added window-shaped designs as a "trompe l’œil" feature to add coherency and/or symmetry to an exterior, or to visually break up an otherwise monotonous empty space. Finally, some may have simply chosen to block off their windows for structural reasons or because they were having to deal with too much sunlight!

In many cases, phantom windows of the like are to be found on buildings located on street corners; having two walls to play with obviously provided owners with more leeway, such as pictured below on rue Commandant-Arnould (also featured in the lead photo) and rue Barennes. In both cases, the brickwork and smooth lines suggest these may be trompe l'œil features.

These next tall buildings, on rues du Serpolet, Chai-des-Farines and Ducau are all heavy on phantom windows. The rue Ducau residence on the right almost comes across as a game of Tetris in progress, with the blocked-up windows seemingly gradually replacing the real ones from the bottom up!

This charming building, on the corner of rue du Hâ and rue des Étuves even includes some faded handpainted adverts (or ghostsigns, a recurring Invisible Bordeaux subject!). On the lower floor, the presence of a corner window suggests that there may also have been similar windows on the upper levels in a previous life. 

The scenario below is a classic one, particularly when the buildings involved are not on street corners: full rows of windows are simply not there. These photos were taken on cours Pasteur and rue des Bahutiers.

The phenomenon is by no means restricted to tall buildings in the city centre. Bourgeois townhouses in residential neighbourhoods are also short of a few windows, as can be seen here on rue Rochambeau, rue des Deux-Ormeaux and cours Marc-Nouaux. In each case, anything between four and seven windows (and even a large arched doorway) have either disappeared from view, or else were never there to begin with!

Smaller homes have also played the phantom window game, such as here on rue Henri-Matisse (where no less than three of the six first-floor windows have been cancelled out) and rue de l'Arsenal.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Bordeaux class system spectrum, Château Pape-Clément, out in Pessac, also boasts its own mystery windows!

In some cases, bricked-up windows, whatever their reason for being, have been cultivated as bona fide trompe l’œils. That is the case for instance on rue Mandron, where the windows in the row over to the left of the picture below are full-on optical illusions, the non-windows convincingly painted to look like genuine ones.

Elsewhere, such as here on rue Ravez, efforts were made in the past to dissimulate and embellish the ghost windows by adding outdoor venetian blinds. The blinds are now well past their best though...

But perhaps my favourite use of a ghost window, pictured below, is to be found on rue d'Arcachon. A board which has been affixed to the window features, appropriately enough, an interpretation of Salvador Dalí's "Figura en una finestra" (Figure at the Window). The picture is signed/credited to "B. Bodin d'après Dalí".

So start hunting out your own phantom windows and decide for yourself why and how they came to be. Once you begin looking for them, you'll see that they crop up everywhere, in all quarters and on all sides!

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A few days ago I attended a concert by the Australian folk and indie pop duo Angus & Julia Stone at l'Espace Médoquine in Talen...

Inside l'Espace Médoquine for the last time

A few days ago I attended a concert by the Australian folk and indie pop duo Angus & Julia Stone at l'Espace Médoquine in Talence (usually simply known as "la Médoquine"). This was, in all likelihood, my last visit to the venue which will close for good in 2018, with residential buildings and scenic greenery set to take its place.

The multi-purpose venue, best known as a concert hall but also used by local associations and businesses for meetings, conferences and miscellaneous events, was built in the late 1980s to the designs of the Gujan-Mestras-based architect Bernard Vayssière. French singer Yves Duteil was the first headline artist to perform there on March 4th 1989.

The venue could be configured according to the event at hand, catering for attendances of anything between 250 and 1,000 if seated, and up to 3,000 standing. The standing configuration is the one with which I am most familiar as a concert-goer; during my first stay in Bordeaux in the 1990s I saw many personal favourites there including Joe Jackson, Lloyd Cole, Stephen Duffy and Tears For Fears. In more recent years, my occasional Médoquine concert outings have included the electronic rock outfit Archive and alternative pop band Metronomy.
The days before barcodes: old Médoquine concert tickets!
Metronomy, November 2014.
Having said all that, one of my most memorable Médoquine (non-) events was a date by Oasis back in 1996, when they were at the height of their Britpop fame. Reportedly underwhelmed by the safety barriers that had been installed in front of the stage, the band decided to cancel their performance at the last minute, to the great disbelief, disappointment and anger of the crowd waiting outside! (The group did return to the venue in 2009 and apparently played an uninspired Oasis-by-numbers set.)

But the local music history books will probably associate the venue with more notable appearances by the likes of the Michael Hutchence-led INXS in June 1993. They had just made the uncomfortable move of downsizing from stadium gigs to more intimate mid-sized venues, and la Médoquine fitted the bill nicely. And, in June 1997, one David Bowie brought his Earthling tour to Talence; this was the only time Bowie was to perform in the area.

Beyond my personal concert-going memories of the venue, my day-job duties in the Communications team at Thales have enabled me to view la Médoquine in a whole new light, spending full days there working on the organisation of new year all-staff meetings. This has meant I have enjoyed the enviable privilege of sitting behind a big mixing desk feeling like I’m important or, with the whole venue to myself pre-event, wandering about on stage secretly pretending I’m Joe Jackson or David Bowie. 

On stage: take the seats away and you more or less have a Bowie-eye view of la Médoquine.
Mixing desk vantage point.
However, possibly the most enduring memory of those days spent at la Médoquine, invariably at the height of winter, is how cold the place was. Although the heating system would be switched on in the morning, it took until mid-afternoon for the temperature to reach anything approaching bearable. As somebody who is more used to working in a comfortable office environment, my days at la Médoquine generally meant wrapping up like I was off to a ski station. Thales managers, ahead of their keynote talks to employees, would be checking out their notes wearing warm coats and scarves. In contrast, when I've attended concerts, the place has felt a little like being stuck inside an oven, regardless of the time of year. Go figure...

Behind the scenes on stage at la Médoquine.
Which brings us on to why the municipally-owned la Médoquine is to be demolished: the rapidly-ageing dysfunctional venue was in dire need of being overhauled and the bill for Talence would have come to between 2 and 4 million euros. Although the venue is run by the semi-public company Talence Gestion Équipement, the municipality continued to provide a substantial annual subsidy (322,000 euros) to cover losses and funded ongoing maintenance and repair work in full. Hence the decision to sell off the land to private property developers, with the resulting revenues being injected into a new project to build a combined music and dance school with a performance hall nearer to the centre of Talence.

La Médoquine's futuristic design will soon be a thing of the past...
Also, while concerts only accounted for a little under a third of the venue’s average annual revenues (29%, while corporate events generated 39% and municipal/associative events 32%), la Médoquine certainly retained its image as a live venue and began to struggle in the distinctly crowded Bordeaux concert hall landscape. La Médoquine has thus been left trailing behind more modern, more attractive and better-equipped counterparts such as Le Rocher de Palmer (comprising separate 250-, 650- and 1,200-capacity halls), which coordinates its highly desirable concert programme in partnership with Bordeaux’s Rock School Barbey and Mérignac’s Krakatoa.

Elsewhere on the outskirts of Bordeaux, Théatre du Casino Barrière and suburban venues like Théâtre des Quatre Saisons in Gradignan have also drawn potential artists and clients away from la Médoquine. Finally, over in Floirac, the cutting-edge Bordeaux Metropole Arena will shortly be opening for business, with a capacity ranging from 2,500 to 11,300, simultaneously overshadowing la Médoquine and replacing the acoustically-challenged Patinoire Mériadeck in central Bordeaux. Meanwhile, Cenon is also considering building an additional 2,500-capacity venue alongside the Rocher de Palmer!

Angus & Julia Stone and a sea of mobile phones, October 2017. The bird statue thing was part Muppets and part Spinal Tap.
According to media reports such as an interesting France Bleu feature broadcast in 2015, locals have mixed feelings about the closure. Many were only too receptive to the activity the venue generated in the neighbourhood and each event was synonymous with lively, lucrative nights for nearby bars and fast-food outlets. But others won’t miss the venue and its crowds; they had previously been vocal in their opposition to la Médoquine, resulting in measures including a strict 10:30pm curfew for concerts. And they probably don’t look back fondly on highly-publicised incidents such as the acts of night-time vandalism carried out in March 2017 ahead of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign rally there in the run-up to his election as French president! 

Anyhow, with a few months to spare ahead of what appears to be the final concert date, veteran singer Hugues Aufray’s March 29th 2018 performance, let us bid a fond farewell to La Médoquine. Thank you for the memories and good night!

The scene at the end of Angus & Julia Stone's set.
No re-admittance...
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: la Médoquine, 224-226 Cours Gallieni, Talence.
> At the time of writing, la Médoquine does still have an official website: www.medoquine.com 
> Some of the figures in this piece were culled from an excellent, informative, highly-recommended article published by in March 2017 by Rue 89 Bordeaux : http://rue89bordeaux.com/2017/03/fin-de-vie-indigne-medoquine/
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

[BONUS] In case you're wondering, here are the songs performed by David Bowie at la Médoquine in 1997 (via setlist.fm):
David Bowie Setlist Espace Médoquine, Talence, France 1997, Earthling

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A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux interviewed Rich Heard about the Frankton 75 project to re-enact the legendary 1942 Operation Frank...

Catching up with the Frankton 75 crew!

A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux interviewed Rich Heard about the Frankton 75 project to re-enact the legendary 1942 Operation Frankton, the heroic raid which proved deadly for all but two members of the squad: Herbert "Blondie" Hasler (1914-1987) and Rich’s grandfather, Bill Sparks (1922-2002). 

The Frankton 75 team, which also included Rich’s brother Mike and their uncle Terry (Bill Sparks’s son), recently completed their reenactment, paddling for four days up the Gironde estuary and walking from Blaye to Ruffec over the following four days. I caught up with Rich to get the full story.

Having completed the reenactment, what do you now know that you didn't previously know about what your grandfather went through 75 years ago?

I have learned a lot about the Gironde and the surrounding area, the layup points where my grandad hid during the day, and the ordeal that faced the marines during their first couple of nights on the water, and then the travelling through France for Sparks and Hasler. 

I didn't know that they were kept on a farm outside of Ruffec for 41 days, literally kept in a room so that they weren't seen! I had the pleasure of meeting René, the son of the farmer that housed my grandad. I also heard of a funny story that happened afterwards: having been confined to the room Hasler and Sparks lost a considerable amount of their fitness, so when it came to the trek through the mountains they got a bit of abuse from an RAF officer! 

How was the challenge on both a physical and mental level? 

Physically it was incredibly tough and completing eight long physical days in a row took its toll. The paddle was tough on the backside, shoulders and back, the kayaks not being built for comfort necessarily, but we muddled through it and completed it faster than anticipated. 

At times it felt like landmarks were being moved along the river to trick us; on day one, from Le Verdon to Pauillac, there seemed to be a lighthouse which took three hours to pass!! Just the sheer enormity of the Gironde!

The three kayaks arriving in Macau at the end of their second day of paddling.

Hitting dry(-ish) land in Macau.
The walk was something else entirely! The sheer mileage we had to cover meant we were walking pretty much from sun up to sun down, and after four days of having wet feet the first day’s walking was incredibly painful. I had massive blood blisters surrounding both heels!

Four days of this was mentally challenging too. Our bodies ached; we only got a few hours’ sleep a night as we got in late and were up early to travel to each drop off point. But we bantered each other the whole way through and really dug in as a team to get the job done. 

Outside the Toque Blanche in Ruffec!
What were the high points of your adventure, and low points if there were any?

We met an incredible amount of French people who were only too happy to help and support us, as well as giving of their time to show us the sights and memorials dedicated to the marines.

Highlights were definitely getting into the boat on day one and overshooting our planned route to hit Pauillac! Plus coming into Blaye and looking back at the river having completed our paddle.

My other highlight was getting into Ruffec, especially visiting the Toque Blanche. Being in the very same room that Grandad met the Résistance in was so, so humbling and we were all overcome with emotions and shed tears. So much happened in that room, without which I wouldn't be alive! 

My lowest points came on day two of the walk, starting the day in a bad way led to my feet being in an even worse position after walking 20 miles. The pain was almost bearable, but the impact I was having on the pace we walked at put our timescale in jeopardy, so I had to make the tough call to sit out on day three... but strapped my feet back together long enough to complete the final walk!    

We had a reception put on for us on Courcôme, which was amazing! Fifty people turned up to meet us and spend the evening with us! It felt like we were celebrities, we received a welcome of claps and cheers!

The reception held in Courcôme, organised by Mary Messer, Jean-Claude Déranlot and the Frankton Souvenir association.
Are there any standout locations or scenery that you took in during your trek through south-western France? 

There were so many beautiful little towns, and more stunning hills filled with vineyards than I can remember! We started our walk alongside the Gironde at the site where Hasler and Sparks sank their canoe. This was an incredible place to visit and served as a good start point to focus on our trek.
Walking into Ruffec will always stand out, walking along the streets in the town up to the Toque Blanche, then seeing a building that was so familiar from photographs, and being lucky enough to go in. Breathtaking!

 [Video interlude: looking back on the adventure]

What happens next?

Well, we are continuing to raise funds for Weldmar Hospice Care. We have just tipped over the £10,000 mark so we have hit the target we had set, which is amazing!

As for me, I'm looking forward to settling back into family life, enjoying my young family and getting used to my new job! 

Who knows what the next adventure will be, I'm always up for a challenge!

> You can still support the Frankton 75 fundraising effort by checking out this Justgiving page: www.justgiving.com/Frankton75inthefootstepsofourgrandfather
> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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Bordeaux Métropole is made up of 28 separate municipalities, all of which boast their own mayors, town halls, websites and, yes, logos. ...

All about the logos of the towns that make up Bordeaux Métropole

Bordeaux Métropole is made up of 28 separate municipalities, all of which boast their own mayors, town halls, websites and, yes, logos. Invisible Bordeaux thought it might be interesting to head out on an armchair tour of those 28 logos. To make the journey as painless as possible, they have been grouped together in a series of totally arbitrarily-chosen categories, the first of which is...

The most evocative
This first selection of logos is heavy on symbols: Saint-Médard's recently-revamped logo attempts to merge elements of a human being with lines representing the Earth, and stars that, well, represent stars, in reference to the town's contribution to space exploration through local industry and research players. A star also features in Floirac's logo, possibly a nod towards the former observatory located on the town's hilltops. Bassens offers a reinterpretation of the Bordeaux crescent symbol, in keeping with its location at a bend in the river Garonne, the colour blue no doubt symbolising its credentials as a maritime port. The Gradignan logo clearly highlights the town's position on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
The most elegant
Serious graphic designers were obviously brought in to work on the following set, featuring Artigues and its flower petals (is the hexagon a reference to France?), Pessac and its enigmatic falling hula-hoop, and Le Taillan's wine label-like visual identity. Note the way the "a" and "n" of the word "Taillan" also form the "M" of "Médoc", in a square where the urban grey meets the red which is reminiscent of Bordeaux wine. Le Taillan's is also the first of our logos to include a slogan.

The ones with slogans
For yes, there are other logos with slogans. Le Bouscat promises a "ville à vivre" (a town to live in but also to be experienced to the full?). Carbon-Blanc's slightly abstract logo, the initial design of which was the work of local school-children, features a series of verbs in the infinitive: "dream, share, innovate". Ambès's multicoloured offering promises a territory, er, where you meet people. Whereas Cenon, whose logo appears to have been borrowed from some organic food packaging, name-checks "nature" and "culture".

The ones with skylines
Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc combines its own slogan with a single-line evocation of the town's skyline, comprising a couple of trees, the parish church and what could either be the roof of a very low house or else a submarine, I'm not sure. Bouliac has also gone for the skyline option, with big, colourful Scrabble letter-like blocks. Surprisingly, the most recognisable landmark on the logo is Bouliac's church rather than its 250-metre-high radio mast, which can be seen from most points in central Bordeaux and beyond! It is surprising to think it must have been rejected! :-)
The most minimalist
Mérignac's logo uses triangles to form an "M" shape, the three colours reportedly representing aerospace (blue), economic development (red) and nature (green). Le Haillan recently unveiled its H-themed logo in a colour scheme that wouldn't look out of place in a chemist's. Ambarès and Villenave d'Ornon have opted for two-colour squiggly shapes that possibly represent their names. They probably look good on municipal newsletters anyway. 
The ones that need revising
Hmmm. Talence, what's with the roller-coaster loop-the-loop motif that appears in the middle of your logo? Is there some kind of funfair theme in there? Parempuyre currently employs a cartoon bird and a bunch of grapes as its visual identity. Lormont is another flower petal municipality, the multicoloured petals linking up with a lowercase letter L, the blue of which possibly cross-checks back to the blue of the Garonne river, which is of course brown in real life. Eysines' giant E on a red rectangle can surely be enhanced. As for Metropolitan newcomer Martignas-sur-Jalle, the current makeshift logo is just a bunch of curly writing combined with the town's historic crest.
The most timeless
The first of these two is possibly Invisible Bordeaux's favourite Métropole logo: Bruges has retained its historic crest, inserted it in a circle and combined it with a modern, no-frills version of its name, the end-product being delivered in a single shade of light blue. The city of Bordeaux's logo, meanwhile, is a familiar sight to locals and visitors alike. It has already been covered at length on the blog as part of an article about the city's historic coat of arms

The ones that need a makeover
There's nothing especially wrong about the next two, but you do sense that they could do with a bit of a millennial makeover. Bègles has opted for an in-your-face "B", with more of that mystifying blue Garonne water (brown, it's brown, see above!) and a sandy triangle that possibly points the way to the beach (maybe even Bègles plage). As for Blanquefort's sand-grass-sky semi-handwritten logo, well, you can imagine it on a white t-shirt or beach towel, but perhaps the time has come for something a bit more formal. 
The most oddball
And then there are the Métropole's two smallest communes, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (population: 1,021) appears to make do with the medallion pictured below, featuring the village church, its bridges, bunches of grapes and, presumably, the original Saint Vincent de Paul. The medallion is reproduced as-is on official literature. Similarly, Saint-Louis-de-Montferrand (population: 2,175), has yet to invest heavily in a logo. The bizarre wishbone-like Miró-esque visual below (which in fact depicts the village's geographic position at the point where the Dordogne meets the Garonne) is pretty much all is available for now.
Then there's Bordeaux Métropole itself...
When the Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux was re-booted and re-branded as Bordeaux Métropole in January 2015, a brand new logo was launched. The intriguing design which, at first glance, was a little like a colourful fireworks display, was in fact constructed around 28 dots, each dot representing the geographical location of the associated municipality. In the mother logo, Bordeaux is the focal point and each line connects the city with a Métropole counterpart. But the Métropole also delivered a variant for each town, each version featuring a different colour scheme and the lines departing from the relevant starting point. Although the individual towns have been encouraged to use their personalized versions, in practice they have not really warmed to the concept. 
Above: the variants conceived for each of the Métropole's individual municipalities.
To finish off (if you are still reading), my colleague Edgar suggested I should layer the 28 logos on a map to enable you, dear reader, to easily locate each Métropole municipality! So here goes:

And, as it's a slow news week, here are the same logos pasted onto the relevant dots of the Bordeaux Métropole logo!
And, to check that you really are familiar with all those logos now, test your knowledge on the Invisible Bordeaux logo quiz

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We have already twice encountered the hugely influential Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) on Invisible Bordeaux, when touring t...

Le Corbusier’s water tower in Podensac: Gironde’s strangest architectural claim to fame

We have already twice encountered the hugely influential Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) on Invisible Bordeaux, when touring the Cité Frugès prefab housing estate in Pessac and its smaller predecessor in Lège-Cap-Ferret. But the oldest and possibly most surprising of Le Corbusier’s projects in Gironde (and reportedly his first in France) was in fact an unusual lighthouse-like water tower in Podensac, 35 kilometres to the south-east of Bordeaux.

At the time of its construction, in 1917, Le Corbusier still went by the name of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris. He had been called upon by a friend, the wealthy Girondin entrepreneur François Thévenot, to design the water tower as part of a wider scheme to ensure that Thévenot’s newly-acquired property (the centrepiece of which was to be his residence, Château Chavat) would boast an efficient water management system.

Le Corbusier thus conceived the 25-metre-tall circular steel-reinforced concrete tower, which was delivered by the company which employed him at the time, Société d’Application du Béton Armé (SABA). A spiral staircase wound its way up the inside of the structure to the 80-cubic-metre water tank at its top, but rather than the tower being an opaque vertical cylinder, it also comprised a landing two-thirds of the way up, with eight pairs of tall French windows on all sides offering a panoramic vista over the surrounding area. But was the room solely designed to take in the view? Some sources do indeed call it a “gloriette”, a place to relax and enjoy some downtime, but Le Corbusier referred to it as the “garçonnière”, suggesting it may also have served as a discreet meeting point for the landlord and his “acquaintances”!

Topping off the structure was a terrace, although the original plan to build an additional look-out tower on top never came to fruition.

Around the time of the Second World War, the water tower and the surrounding land became the property of the local council, which split the wider domaine into smaller plots (although the château and its adjoining park remained more or less as-is). The water tower had ceased to operate in 1940, and it was soon to be dwarfed by a far more modern counterpart. The Le Corbusier structure was resolutely ignored and fell into a state of disrepair until, in 1983, two Dutch architects rediscovered the tower and its history.

It was not immediately listed as an historic monument (an application submitted by the local council was rejected in 1986) and, in 1987, its administration was handed over (for a period of 99 years) to “Le Groupe des Cinq”, a collective originally formed by five architects (Laurent Cazalis, Alain Loisier, Bertrand Nivelle, Daniel Sarrazin and Jean de Giacinto) to preserve and revive historic sites, coupling them with cultural events. Throughout the second half of the 1990s, the association oversaw substantial refurbishments conducted on the water tower (notably the roofing, the terrace, and the interior and windows of the garçonnière) and, in November 2005, the Château Chavat park, its water features, greenhouses and water tower were all finally listed as historic monuments.

Ever since then, le Groupe des Cinq has worked on bringing the water tower to life, developing its touristic, pedagogical, cultural and historical appeal. This has translated into its inclusion on local tourist maps, hosting school groups, and the organization of various exhibitions, installations and the like. Memorable shows have included "sound sculptures" by the acoustician Didier Blanchard in partnership with composer Georges Bloch back in 1995, and a lightshow and spoken word performance entitled “Les jardins noctiluques” in 2006.

The ground-level entrace to the water tower.
The day I was there, it didn’t exactly feel like a hive of cultural activity though (admittedly, this was late afternoon on a Sunday in August). To reach the base of the tower, I trespassed through what I think was a private car park; a sign mentioned it was part of “le chantier CSMR”, possibly in reference to extension work being carried out on a nearby old people’s home. On the other side a sports pitch cuts off access from the main road. On the tower itself there was no mention of its historical significance, no information panel and no sign of life; it wasn’t until I got back home and did my homework that I found out it was occasionally more animated and wasn’t just an abandoned, empty shell.

But perhaps that’s the way Podensac wants it to remain. While architecture enthusiasts might flock to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy, the Cité Radieuse in Marseille and the recently UNESCO-listed Cité Frugès in Pessac, this lowly water tower is not so much as signposted and remains tucked away, off the beaten track, sandwiched between an inhospitable car park and a football pitch: Gironde’s strangest and unlikeliest architectural claim to fame.

Le Corbusier loses out in the battle of the water towers by some margin.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Podensac water tower, rue Pierre-Vincent, Podensac
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
> The Podensac water tower has its own, dedicated website:
http://www.chateaudeaulecorbusier.sitew.fr Resources available include plans and archive photographs of the tower being built, see http://www.chateaudeaulecorbusier.sitew.fr/#LES_PLANS_.B

This 3-D simulation, produced by Le Groupe des Cinq, gives an idea of what the water tower is like on the inside:  

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