Bordeaux Métropole 3.1: design at a metropolitan scale

2 February 2011 | blog, cities, research, strategy



In late 2010, INTA (International Urban Development Association) travelled to Bordeaux where they had been invited by Vincent Feltesse, the President of the Communité Urbaine de Bordeaux, La CUB, to organise an international panel to reflect on a long range vision for Bordeaux Métropole territory and to consider the types of policies and proposals most appropriate and beneficial to the future of the area.

La CUB has considerable skills and talent in-house and has produced much excellent work so the task of the INTA Panel was not to reinvent but to explore ideas with the CUB Team and introduce commentary on their current thinking and suggest new themes and directions which chime with their existing strategies. I was part of the international panel which included economists, planners, urbanists and architects from Japan, the United States, Netherlands, Germany, Singapore and the UK.

The background to Métropole 3.1

Consideration of the Bordeaux Metropole 3.1 takes place at an important point in time when long established approaches to urbanism, especially those principally concerned with object-based urbanism, are being superseded by new modes of practice and organisation, not only by established professions but also by citizens, communities and others involved in the transformation of territory.
Bordeaux - mirror pool on the Garonne right bank by Michel Corajoud paysagiste
The past 15 years have seen considerable positive change in the centre of Bordeaux and its riverfront. This transformation has seen the city change from an area of decline with decreasing appeal, limited transport infrastructure and a derelict waterfront into a growing city with a World Heritage Site at its core, with a contemporary tramway system reducing car usage and structuring development, together with a renaissance along the Garonne that has created popular communal spaces and attracted new development.
out-of-centre developments - east edge of Bordeaux
In contrast, the dispersed landscape of Bordeaux outside the core suggests the outcome of a long process of suburban and extra-urban development in which an easy route to building anew has been taken instead of a more considered approach. The results of this process are not wholly negative however and the complex mosaic of built and un-built that exists today provides many opportunities for positive change.
Bordeaux - vineyards within the built-up area

Models of change

At the same time, there is a need to define a model of change (whether growth, stasis or decline) that relies on intensification and compaction rather than perpetual horizontal expansion. Intensification and compaction suggests the retrofitting of low density suburbs and extra-urban areas with limited and governed centres where public transport is a deterrent for car usage and where walking distance is a key factor in determining development extent. This is not to say that some centres or focal points don’t exist already – they clearly do but the roles and performance of many of them – the retail parks, disconnected business parks, remote factories, and standalone university departments – are suboptimal.

It is worthwhile noting some of the design and structuring principles which are appropriate at a metropolitan scale. These include:

  • settlement hierarchy, ratio of built to un-built with an emphasis on intensification around centres
  • connections to landscape – natural resources and existing historical assets re-usefood production – local produce, allotments
  • energy and smart grid – including live monitoring of grid and energy use
  • biodiversity, habitats, productive land and the third landscape
  • sustainable transport – emphasis on pedestrians, cycles and smart public transport networks
  • role, function and number of centres – governance and citizen involvement, typologies of centres and their specification

Current plans describing the spatial structure of the city already refer to a number of nodes or centres relating to public transport and roads infrastructure. These in turn relate to linear corridor developments linking inwards to the city centre along transport routes. It is entirely positive to define some locations for centres but the actual specification of what these might be remains unknown or underplayed. It would be constructive to regard this specification as part of policy rather than an accidental accompaniment to real estate development.
the centre of Pessac - compare with Maujay area below
the centre of Maujay area

Towards a centres strategy

It would be appropriate if the 27 municipalities that make up the CUB each had a focus around a multi-functional centre. In this way, governance could be linked to spatial identity and the local town hall. This would help to connect emerging forms of community engagement, user-led innovation and new forms of direct citizen co-investment in change to established municipal arrangements.

Of course there may well be more than 27 centres and some will not have an administrative function. So a positive area of endeavour might be to develop typologies of typical centre components. At this strategic level, the architecture itself is unimportant but local centres could and should have many different roles and characteristics. These could be positive combinations of:

  • transport hubs as a basic requirement – tram stops, cycle hire and storage, car club/parking, local governance and civic administration, town hall – including places of worship, civil and humanist weddings, civic spaces
  • business space, shared offices, micro-industries
  • food production – shared allotments, vineyards, food markets and farm outlets
  • waste – recycling points
  • social spaces – play areas and sports facilities + passive greenspace and gardens
  • places to live – with shops, residential, special needs housing, community centres
  • existing areas – airport, business space, transport hub, shared offices, research and science
  • education – schools, redefined college campus, university departments
  • connection to greenspace – parks and gardens, natural areas, water-space
  • digitally ready – free wi-fi zones, digital information on transport, energy use and more

Design principles at a metropolitan scale

In addition to this, it will be useful to think about some of the design principles as well as some of the ambitions of a centres strategy. The design principles would certainly include:

  • the idea of enabling process rather than fixed outcomes
  • development based on performance and investment criteria
  • performance rather than aesthetics, content over form
  • relations rather than objects – building interfaces with the public realm, adjacencies instead of wasted space, landscape experience linked to food and energy
  • embracing energy, biodiversity, food, waste and water

The benefits of expressing a new model of change through a specific centres strategy will relate to the economy, the environment and the quality of life for residents of La CUB:

  • economy: innovation, talent attraction, start-ups, localisation, resilience and diversity
  • environment: energy hierarchy, sustainable lifestyles, broad but light environmental footprint, food, waste, water, transport and biodiversity
  • quality of life: low cost of living, landscape, heritage, community cohesion, leisure, health care and well being

Part of this definition of a new model of change should also deal with agriculture, greenspace and the third landscape.
Christian Devillers - Berges du Lac, Bordeaux

The value of greenspace

The dispersed nature of much of Bordeaux outside the World Heritage Site means that the city already contains much greenspace in the form of agricultural land, woodland, designed landscapes (such as parks and gardens) or simple as space left over after development has taken place or is otherwise undevelopable land in flood plains. A greenspace strategy could be a critical element of planning for Bordeaux at a metropolitan scale with significant positive implications for the economy, environment and quality of life.

In terms of the economy at a metropolitan scale, greenspaces are important as they support the local economy through food production and fuel crops. They retain skills in agriculture, wine growing and production, forestry, woodland management and related countryside activities. Greenspaces are also instrumental in defining the character of the Bordeaux area.

As a conspicuous element of the environment, greenspaces are central to enhancing the diverse character of the landscape, improving opportunities for outdoor recreation close to home and therefore decreasing the need to drive. They are also critical elements in enriching biodiversity by providing, maintaining or enhancing a complex mosaic of natural and manmade habitats.
Michel Desvignes - rive droite, Bordeaux
In terms of quality of life, greenspace networks encourage involvement with the landscape either actively through care and production or passively through recreation. They can provide a canvas for engagement by individuals and families through community projects and create opportunities for public occupation and a process-driven greenspace development.

For these reasons, greenspace networks should be expressed through metropolitan strategy and planned rather than occurring as the almost accidental bi-product or leftover from real estate development. Also, as development in the metropolitan area starts to intensify around centres and transport infrastructure, there will be opportunities for the creation of new elements of the greenspace network. In this way, it is possible to develop typologies of void (greenspace) as well as typologies of built (housing, business and education) which come together critically at local centres.

  • green and blue networks containing
  • crop areas for food, (wine) and fuel
  • diverse habitats
  • gardens and other designed landscapes
  • open land not in agriculture or forestry use
  • social spaces and their connections with built areas

The Third Landscape

This is very much in keeping with the work of the French landscape designer Gilles Clément who has asserted for years that there should be an acknowledgement of a third landscape – or areas in which nature has gradually reasserted itself. Le Tiers-Paysage is a terrain classification describing abandoned spaces such as former industrial areas or nature reserves which are prime areas for accumulating bio-diversity and because these landscapes are places of indecision, bio-diversity thrives, giving ecological value to otherwise neglected areas. This seems to be an appropriate and inclusive way of looking at the landscape of Bordeaux which allows for the creation of a range of greenspace typologies through citizen involvement and co-design.


Bordeaux has taken remarkable steps over the past fifteen years to change perceptions, especially in the historic core. Now the time is right to focus attention on the peripheral areas and bring more structure and meaning to them, creating a balance between built and un-built and optimising the city with fewer grand projets and greater attention to concentration and intensification of the peripheral fabric.

The final report and documentation of INTA’s week in Bordeaux is available in French as a pdf here.

The views expressed in this post are personal and not necessarily those of Communité Urbaine de Bordeaux or INTA.