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Bordeaux’ world-class wine museum

Bordeaux' world-class wine museum

September 2016

A spectacular wine museum places the historic city of Bordeaux on the architectural world map while acting as a game changer for the city’s once conservative image.

The French city of Bordeaux has always been well known to global wine enthusiasts, however the ‘sleeping beauty,’ as the city is often referred to, may soon come to be associated with remarkable architecture too.

Not only is Bordeaux home to the highest number of preserved historical buildings in France after Paris, but is recently making headlines with world-class architecture projects.

One of the city’s new icons is La Cité du Vin (City of Wine). Standing bold and impressive on the banks of the Garonne River, the wine museum makes a strong architectural statement in Bordeaux’ redeveloping docklands district while signifying the city’s new found calling for providing a base for architectural experimentation.

The museum adds to Herzog & de Meuron’s recently completed Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux (2015) and OMA’s Jean-Jacques Bosc Bridge (2018) that put the once sleepy town on the architectural world map.

Designed by French firm XTU Architects, La Cité du Vin was officially inaugurated on 1st June this year; construction took just 36 months to complete.

On five main storeys, the museum houses a breadth of interactive experiences related to wine, a 250-seat auditorium, art galleries, a reading room, a wine bar, restaurants, a viewing platform and a gift shop.

Since the mid-1990s, Bordeaux has undergone a massive revitalisation project which restored hundreds of magnificent 18th-century limestone buildings at the city’s centre. La Cité du Vin is the culmination of this spectacular 15-year rehabilitation, which has given a game-changing boost to the city’s once quiet and conservative restaurant scene.

Shape and movement

According to the architects, the initial aim of the building’s architecture was to create a link between La Cité du Vin and the spaces surrounding it through perpetual movement.

This begins with the rounded shape of La Cité du Vin which resembles a wine decanter, and which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the architecture of Bordeaux.

In their design, architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of XTU took inspiration from gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass, and even from eddies on the Garonne. Every detail of the architecture should evoke “wine’s soul and liquid nature: seamless roundness, intangible and sensual.”

Reverting to this theme seemed logical since when building a museum, the exterior shape needs to suggest the interior subject, Legendre explains. “The subject – wine – is a liquid element and is about movement. The form should resemble the shape that wine takes when swirled in a glass, while at the same time alluding to the sense of mysteriousness that drinking wine in itself evokes.”

The concept of fluidity and movement is key to the architects’ design execution and extends to every aspect of the building, ranging from the curved silhouette to the building’s indoor spaces, materials and scale as well as to the flow of visitors through the building.

“In a museum the visitor experience needs to be fluid so the journey we created takes the visitor around the museum to come back to the starting point. At the centre of the building lies a garden; visitors, like a river, turn around the garden via the central staircase and come back in a continuous movement.”

This means that visitors are constantly moving as they experience a virtuous circle of discovery. “Each person discovers a new world in a fluid, rotating motion leading to an unusual, limitless destination, like a journey through the meanderings of a cultural landscape which feeds the imagination,” the architects say.

The building’s two entrances on either side further create an impression of movement, ebb and flow between inside and outside. One entrance faces the city and the other faces the river while higher up, the viewing tower offers panoramic views over Bordeaux.

An interesting feature of the viewing platform on the 8th floor, which houses a tasting area, is the ceiling, covered by a chandelier of thousands of glass bottles. “We wanted to have something spectacular at the top that matches the panoramic 360 degrees view over Bordeaux, which is further emphasised by the huge glass walls that reveal the view over the city,” Legendre says.

The façade

On approach of La Cité du Vin, visitors are struck by the building’s shimmering façade, made up of silk-screen printed glass panels and perforated, iridescent, lacquered aluminium panels.

“Because the building has a rounded shape and needed to convey the concept of fluidity, we employed different finishing on the glass panels, which would give them a continuously changing effect.

“Depending in the light, weather and reflection from the river, parts of the façade would appear golden at times while at other times, they would shimmer in grey or green. The idea was that for a visitor, it should be hard to determine what the exact shape of the building is.”

Again, the connection to wine as a liquid and mysterious subject is evident: “Changing with the sunshine or the time of day, the building dialogues with the river through its reflections. There are very close parallels with a wine’s constantly changing appearance.”

Legendre explains that achieving this changing effect was very important in order to integrate the project in the surrounding landscape.

The structure

Once inside, another fascinating feature of La Cité du Vin reveals itself: the wooden structure of the building. It consists of more than 570 arches of laminated timber, no two of which are the same.

The arches form both the structure of the exterior shape while at the same time serving as the interior ceiling. On a conceptual level, the wooden structure is reminiscent of a timber frame, of boats, and of wine on its travels.

“Wood is very important to the wine industry – wine ages in wooden barrels and is transported on wooden boats. So there is a relationship between wine and the forest,” Legendre explains. Furthermore, the region around Bordeaux has a lot of woodland area and is home to France’s biggest forest, hence the architects wanted to make a connection to the regional landscape and identity.

Building such a structure would have been impossible just ten years ago, explains Legendre. “We can only build such curved arches today because the technology has advanced significantly over recent years; with the help of specialised robots, the wood can be cut into shape according to the three dimensional model,” she says.

Linking old and new

La Cité du Vin sits at the border between the old town of Bordeaux and the city’s industrial district, and is expected to transform the area around it through attracting more projects that inject life in the district.

“There’s a lot of construction going on in this area which is aimed to become a new part of Bordeaux. The museum is the first milestone in this transformation, and other projects will hopefully follow,” says Legendre.

With projects such as La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux shows that it has even more to offer than plenty of history and delicious beverages. “Bordeaux has become a great place for architectural experimentation in France. As the city is expansion, new construction is welcome. It’s a playground for architects in France,” says Legendre.

The face of the historic town is definitely changing and it’s clear that Bordeaux has shed its ‘sleeping beauty’ image, embracing its new found glory as one of France’s most exciting, vibrant and dynamic cities.

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