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...

What signals can be picked up today at Pessac’s radar test tower?


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 ! 


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

Podcast #16 - Sophie Poirier and 'Le Signal'

 
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!



Click here if player does not display properly!

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

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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 ...

Bordeaux’s changing faces: the bridge, the wasteland, and the flyover


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 ! 

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

Uncovering the hidden side of Parc Lescure with Laurent Brun

 

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!



Click here if player does not display properly!

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! 

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