OK, the time has come to own up, I love maps. So, as you can imagine, I got quite excited when I heard that some new public artwork had been...

In the shade of the city: Leandro Elrich’s map-shaped aluminium canopy artwork

OK, the time has come to own up, I love maps. So, as you can imagine, I got quite excited when I heard that some new public artwork had been installed on Place Marie de Gournay in the nascent "Belvédère" district of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Garonne, not far from where the Pont Saint-Jean stretches across the river.

The piece is entitled 'La Carte, à l'ombre de la ville' (The map, in the shade of the city) and is the work of Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. In short, it is a 400-square-metre aluminium canopy held up by 14 five-metre-tall metallic pillars, the contours of which replicate the tree trunks of maritime pines. And, the key selling point is that the artwork is in the shape of a map of the city of Bordeaux, which pleasantly stretches out overhead by looking up, or can also be viewed at ground level when the sun is out!

Initially positioned here in June of 2023 and accessible to the general public since later that year, the public artwork was funded by Fonds Cré’Atlantique, a philanthropic foundation set up by the public real estate developers Bordeaux Euratlantique and local eau de vie/brandy distributors Groupe Bernard. The 20 tons of raw aluminium took on their new shape at the ‘Fusions’ foundry in central France over an 18-month period and when local newspaper Sud Ouest met Leandro Erlich, the artist underlined one of the key messages of the design: “Trees supporting (holding up) the city is a strong symbol in such crucial times for the planet.”

Most importantly, the canopy will physically deliver some much-needed shaded to the residents of this new area, particularly given how this square, despite being surrounded by tall buildings on three of its four sides, will be particularly exposed to la Gironde’s increasingly hot summer sun. Trees have been planted over to one side of the square but the presence of an underground car park has meant that much of the area has had to be left bare of any form of vegetation, almost giving it the raised esplanade yesteryear feel that many associate with the city’s great unloved Mériadeck quarter.

The spookily realistic metallic tree trunks (and some genuine trees in the background).
Don't look up. No, actually, do look up.
Now, I may be mistaken here, but the appearance of this new artwork seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the local population, possibly because the “Belvédère” district has been a gradual development rather than appearing overnight. However, when I shared pictures of the piece on social media, instead of the usual lack of engagement I’ve become so accustomed to, on Facebook at least this post was met with a number of comments and shares from people getting very agitated.

The anger was mainly directed at aspects ranging from the overall absurdity of the installation and the mystifying symbol of metallic tree trunks, to the use of aluminium for the canopy, which admittedly could actually amplify the ambient heat when it gets hot. One follower suggested that, given that aluminium is a good conductor of heat but radiates around 95% of the infrared rays it receives, the place could become an ideal barbecue spot! Before long the comments even segued from constructive criticism to becoming politically-charged… when Invisible Bordeaux’s initial intention was just to share a picture of a ground-level shadow in the shape of a map of the city.

Panel complete with QR code and a bite-sized version of the Bordeaux map.
So, what happens next? Are we looking at a sight that in time will prove unpopular and controversial? Or will it become a place that locals will embrace, congregating and socialising under the giant map, all the while looking up and down to see whether they can spot the distinctive silhouette of the boulevards or some other emblematic street in amongst the metalwork?

One thing that I will say is that whenever passing through the area, I feel there is a definite identikit feel to the buildings that have gone up. For instance, there is nothing especially Bordelais about a view such as this one, the picture could honestly have been taken anywhere in the western world.

London? Paris? New York? Munich? Bordeaux's Belvédère district as currently visible on Google Streetview. I plan to return shortly to take an actual picture of this view.
But hey-ho, that’s 21st-century progress. Then again, if progress does also mean producing artwork in the shape of maps, then maybe it’s not all bad. Because did I mention I love maps?

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: 'La Carte, à l'ombre de la ville', Place Marie de Gournay/Quai Deschamps, Bordeaux.
> And enjoy this informative video providing the background story to the artwork: 

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

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