Around the Bridges
Paul Lecomte @ Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage de Bordeaux
The site is on the right bank of the Garonne river, facing the historic centre of Bordeaux. It is a natural side which faces the iconic unesco part of the city. The challenge was to connect both sides of the town and create a public space from the south bridge (Pont de pierre) to the north one (Pont Chaban-Delmas). The main idea is to initiate a loop around the two bridges and both sides.
The aim of the project is to trigger a deep transformation of that bank, based on two structural and symbolic points : the existent bridges. One built with stone in the XIXth century and the second with concrete, in 2012. Therefore, each site has its own characteristic. There are two programs, and two approaches according to the context.
The first intervention is a combination of public spaces and private gardens near by the new bridge. The goal of this intervention is to offer a new meeting point, based on daily life celebrations. A place where you can find intimacy and privacy to share moments with family or friends but also a place that can host an art exhibition or an out-door concert… It is connected by its roof with the bridge that creates a new panorama and contact with the river. It gathers different kinds of private outdoor events and a huge public space on the rooftop.
The surroundings of the bridge are a post-industrial concrete deck. A few factories are still there but there is no major activity in the neighborhood. The atmosphere of that part of the city is halfway between Metropolisof Fritz Lang and the sadness of William Turner’s paintings. So the concept of this first intervention was to create a place that allows people to identify and symbolize their environment. It is a massive intervention of 350 meters long that hides inner gardens. It’s an interpretation of the architectural shapes of patios and courtyards inherited from antiquity (Olympia’s Palaestra), Spanish haciendas, Moroccan riads, Granada’s Alhambra or modern projects as Peter Zumthor’s work in the Serpentine Gallery… Basically it’s a succession of voids that connect people all over ; a search of intimacy and protection.
The second intervention is located underneath the historical stone bridge. It takes advantage of a « forgotten » land : a huge parking bellow the first arch of the bridge. A place used during decades for parking cars, which can possibly become one of the major asset of the town. The project offers to create a series of public baths. The purpose is to interpret a historical program in our modern metropolis. It connects modern architecture with an historical context. How can fair stone and red brick deal with the soft grey of modern concrete ?
The intervention took root in the different layers of history the city carries. From the roman ruins to the medieval area, Bordeaux shows off an inspiring panel of architecture. This intervention is more discreet than the first one, it’s aiming for the right measure, the good proportion. The intervention is more about creating a new platform on the ground than making a new building. The ground is hollowed out to form the baths. An attractive feature of the project is the reflection of the brick arch on the water bellow the bridge.
How important/ influential were contemporary projects which challenge the very nature of the bridge as the infamous one proposed by Heatherwick studio for the Thames?
What was very important in my approach was to understand the symbolism and nature of these two bridges in the city (Bordeaux). Behind the form or materials, what was common to both ? The very nature of the bridge is minimalist : the crossing. In this respect, they are masterpieces. What interests me to observe is the complexity that bridges have to connect with the bank’s neighborhood. Then I looked at many bridge examples to understand this diffused junction, the top and the bottom. What type of public space could fit with the arrival of a bridge? It is more the nature of a bridge’s relationship to a neighbourhood that my project is questioned, than the very nature of the bridge, as in the Hearthwick Studio project. But we see today a form of hybridization of the bridge to the public space and other very interesting uses. The OMA bridge project in Bordeaux is a good example of this search for quality of public space. Or the Bouncing Bridge project of the AZC agency across the Seine in Paris. All these projects seek a complementarity of the bridge as an infrastructure, with a new program (public space, leisure activities, park…). The idea is not novel if we think of the magnificent Vecchio bridge in Florence.
How important as the sketch as tool through which to acquaint yourself with the site?
Being from Bordeaux I had to find a way to rediscover familiar places. I think the sketch is a great tool to watch and decrypt. I was thus able to question myself on the rhythm of the city, its facades, its striking elements. Redraw the heritage to discover what is hidden behind it, the architectural skeleton of the city, its grid.
The drawing also allows a closer link with the materials involved. Unlike digital photography, which rapidly multiplies points of view, drawing forces us to concentrate and dissect a space over a relatively long period of time. The sketch allowed me to understand the elements of the site by drawing them one by one. Iñigo Viar, with whom I worked in Bilbao, often says “what you draw you memorize”. That’s what it’s all about, memorizing the site by hand.
What defined the language of representation through which you articulate the project? What role does colour hold?
I tried to work on a rather dreamlike representation of the project and its environment. Rather than trying to approach a photographic reality of the site I prefer to be inspired by it and translate it in my own way. For this I find that there is a real complementarity between orthonormal drawings and axonometry. The harmony of shades and gradations of black and white serve the radical concept of the project. I believe in the ability of axonometry to explain a project with very few images. There is something magical in this distorted view that captures all volumes. The perspective views try to translate the ambiances, the qualities of light.
For this project I mainly worked with black and white. It is a form of abstraction that forces us to make strong choices in the way we represent the site and its context. However, this black and white work also makes it possible to accurately integrate some important shades. For example, it brings out the water in the basins or a significant element in a courtyard. Black and white illustrations highlight volumes and drop shadows.
What is the effect and purpose of the six image format? How does each square speak of a particular moment? How does one dialogue with the one next door?
The aim of this six image format was to break down the overall axonometry and to lead the viewer step by step into the project. In a way, to familiarize him with this new space and to tell a story of daily life in each square. It allows you to start with details and finally explain everything. The notion of story is very important to explain a project and allow the listener to project himself.
Global axonometry allows a form of omniscience of the project. Everything is visible. With these squares, I can create something random and unexpected. They let you focus on a specific use or moment. It is a kind of storyboard of the project life.
They follow each other at first sight without any real link with the one next door. But, it is only once the whole axonometry is revealed that the six squares take all their meaning. They seem a priori disconnected and yet together they form the same composition of the project.
What is your take on the GIF? What is its purpose when trying to describe the project?
It is a particularly effective tool on digital media. It allows to attract curiosity, and to explain didactically the project steps. With a simple GIF you can perfectly illustrate a very complex process. It is both fun and effective. It also has an offbeat side that I really like, it comes from the web, close to the memes universe. There is something not very serious at first glance in the GIF that seduces me. An alternative way to present projects.
Its goal is to synthesize a thought, to summarize a project path through a succession of a few images. It also allows to describe very well the stages of transformation of the site. It must be precise and concise, it reminds me of a haiku in a way.
From analogue to digital, the way we craft and represent is largely changing- what do you think is the next step?
Paradoxically, there is a return to analog techniques. I believe the path is the hybridization between these two worlds. Graphic works by illustrators such as Diane Berg or Eva Le Roi go in this direction. I believe that, by crossing analogue and digital techniques, new practices and modes of representation will emerge. May be video work or digital projection on a real model could be very interesting. For instance, videos made by the Spanish artist Luis Urculo – like the one for Nave 16 Matadero project of the Spanish architect Iñaqui Carnicero – are in my opinion a fine example of this hybridization of techniques.
Currently preparing for his graduation project at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage de Bordeaux, Paul also studied in his first year of Master at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago. Paul worked with the Seura agency in Paris and more recently with the Viar Studio agency in Bilbao.
In parallel with his architectural studies, he is working on a graphic novel project with a friend called “Sur la piste”. You can follow this work on our instagram link: https://www.instagram.com/surlapiste/