Centralité périphérique


New Centralities at the periphery of Bordeaux, France
City Visions Europe program 2009-2010

City Visions Europe: Bordeaux, Kosice, Mechelen, Plzen is a design-research program focusing on the urban condition of four mid-scale European cities. It offers the framework for exchange between architects and cities to develop, present, and debate speculative architectural ideas on the future of these cities as well as the European city in general.

Zwischenstadt - Cities without cities

In 1995-96 within the frame of a scientific seminar in Berlin the German Architect Thomas Sieverts developed the concept of the Zwischenstadt. The concept addresses the decentralisation of the compact historic European city and examines the new form of urbanity that has spread across the world since the emergence of motorised mobility. Sieverts calls this the Zwischenstadt, literally the in-between city, as it exists between a specific place of the immediate living environment and the abstract non-places of movement, between small local economic cycles and the dependency on the world market and between the very effective myth of the old historic city and the open countryside, still deeply anchored in our dreams as an old cultural landscape. He does not plea for urban sprawl, but -with regard to the general failure of contemporary planning mechanisms - argues for the need to design these landscapes from new perspectives. While the Zwischenstadt itself does not have a specific form, it is a result of innumerable rational decisions (by landowners, independent communities, regions). A macrostructure without preconfigured Gestalt, into which many preconfigured and planned microstructures are interspersed. Probably its most interesting and formative character is the fact that it is basically built. The Zwischenstadt is already there.

A new Centrality for the periphery of Bordeaux

The Eysines Le Taillan Site, one of the test grounds, (and exemplary for the 'Zwischenstadt-condition' in Bordeaux - vastly embedded between the existing historic urban core and the countryside) is a peripheral residential area which has long since grown beyond the small village nucleus it once was. The dominant housing type is the detached or semi-detached house with its own plot, attesting the much-desired ideal of living in a freestanding villa. Here and there, the residential areas are interrupted by shopping centres, leisure facilities, forest, agricultural plots and solitary housing blocks: an apparently ideal suburban living environment. Naturally there is an ongoing global debate about the future of this suburban dream and about the ecological or economic consequences produced by such areas. Yet, without entering this general debate about the future of our cities, we assert that the contemporary middle-class lifestyle of these areas – detached or semi-detached houses with two cars in each household - is too costly for many and therefore excludes a growing part of our society. Hence the project and its programme will focus on affordable rental housing for the masses, on accessibility by public transport and on a high quality public space instead of the private fenced gardens of the villa-developments.

The project will therefore not develop, as Sieverts calls it, an easily consumable image of another middle class development, but add basic amenities to form a new centrality in order to make the existing site inhabited by a diverse social mix. What does this new centrality look like? Despite the fact that historic architectural and spatial qualities are evident in the old city core of Bordeaux, yet it is clear that these qualities cannot be simply replicated and implemented in the peripheries, it is necessary to respond to the specific contemporary context of Eysines. Existing villas, solitary housing blocks, public gardens and leisure facilities stand next to shed-roofed industrial buildings: Which urban form would tolerate, accept and preserve the constituents of the Zwischenstadt or even offer the potential to strengthen the quality of its diversity? We believe that to deal with such conditions is one of the major tasks of European urbanism in the 21st century.

Cross vs. Block
A typology for Eysines – Le Taillan

As a counter reaction to the omnipresent and universally applicable ‘model for the new metropolitan mainstream' - the perimeter block - we propose for the site of Eysines – Le Taillan an alternative typology which has the ability to include rather than to exclude the above mentioned qualities, an architectural form that is open rather than closed serving simultaneously as a infrastructure that provides collectivity to a condition that is generally charged with a culture of individuality, selfishness and privacy.
Within this context of a complex every-day life, we propose an architectural form literary as opposite of the perimeter block, by reversing its basic inherent rule, which is to occupy the margins of a lot defined by the street and therefore to ‘enclose’ space. We propose the implementation of a large 500meter by 500meter measuring cross as a fundamental act of recognition of existent qualities. Rather than a top-down and tabula rasa intervention, the cross-shaped building is reacting in a very precise and careful manner on the existing urban context, without affecting it by a violent and physical act. In fact, the aim of the intervention is to change and to influence the spatial character of the existing Zwischenstadt-condition of Eysines - Le Taillan; in other words, to ‘give form’ by precisely framing its diverse qualities. As a sort of ‘retroactive manifestation’ to the founding act of the roman cardum and decumanum, the cruciform building emphasises a coherent spatial entity of the area, accentuating its role as (new) centrality and habitat.

Together with this act of recognition and spatialisation of the new centrality by means of the cruciform typology, we simultaneously propose the connection of the planned extension of the tram-infrastructure with the large-scale architectural artifact. Additionally, these first steps of the development - infrastructure and habitation - will be completed with a topographical element, an artificial hill made of the excavated material from the building’s foundations. Together, these features create a compositional triad that articulates the basic physical identity of the (new) neighborhood. Hence we propose a strategy that prepares the spatial structuring for future adaptation and complementation as a continuous process. The important issue in this strategy of planning lies in the dichotomy of the permanent form - the formal buildings - and the temporary occupations: ephemeral activities, changing programmes.

Another specific spatial feature of the large cross building is the open ground floor. The four-storey-high building is raised on sequences of piloti-structures with changing rhythms, articulating the relationship with the city-level and offering a continuous and permeable open space with a widely diverse range of surfaces and vegetations. The vast scale of the artifact allows the open ground floor with its varying structure of pilotis appears no longer as a space that is autonomous and only related to the building, but rather it becomes a part of the neighborhood itself. The projects starts to oscillate between architecture and infrastructure, offering spaces for various forms of occupations in-between the structure, from small storehouses, to workshops and ateliers, kindergartens or small restaurants and cafés.
Zooming out to a wider scale, the cruciform building structures the area, offering spaces for future developments and growth whilst defines the limits of these changes, forming a permanent frame for the various activities in-between. It becomes a sort of playground for the temporary, the ephemeral, the collective, the alternative, the commercial or even extra-legal. Here this act of framing by the means of a simple and calm architecture is employed to unify and to connect, but at the same time to distinguish and to separate - to house otherness. The open and permeable, yet spatially defined continuous ground also reflects the idea of civic space for a pluralistic society - as a stage on which people can act in manifold ways.