Agora 2012 / Bordeaux 2030

The 5th edition of Bordeaux's biennale of architecture, urbanism and design proposes a discussion about urban heritage, a topic particularly adequate for the majority of the European cities.

Internationally known by its wines and its fantastic gastronomy, the port city of Bordeaux exudes culture in every corner: a clear example is its historical city center, the largest urban environment protected by the UNESCO. Furthermore, the city is channeled towards a promising future under the motto Bordeaux 2030 , an agenda for the urban restructuring initiated in 1996 to address the problems of the city, from the disappearance of the industry to the abandon of the urban center in favor of the periphery, by way of a tragically low occupational density with a consequent demographic decline and worrying levels of pollution.

Guided by environmental, economic and social sustainability guides, the first results are already visible in many points of the city, and for 2030, Bordeaux aims to become an example for cities around the world. Neighborhoods as the Bacalan — a former harbour area transformed into a young residential neighborhood and core of cultural creation —, or the Bastide-Niel — the city's first ecodistrict, planned by the Dutch firm MVRDV —, are examples of the new Bordeaux, and ongoing experiments to understand the city as a great urban lab.

In order to allow the population to take part and to provide transparency to these processes, it was decided in 2004 to create, under the name of Agora , the first edition of Bordeaux's biennale of architecture, urbanism and design. Eight years later, the event has turned into an international reference, proposing a new leitmotif for debate every edition, and using Bordeaux as a platform for experimentation. For this year's 5th edition , the curator in chief is French architect and anthropologist Marc Barani , who has proposed debating and thinking about the transformation and intervention in urban heritage. Such is a tremendously necessary and complicated topic in a city like this one, with a great abandon of the industrial heritage and the urban center. The topic might be particularly adequate for the majority of the European cities, which today preserve an immense built-up heritage that could possibly be taken advantage of and re-used, but nevertheless the most typical chosen option it is to leave or demolish, in favor of horizontal expansion of low density urban models.
Top: MVRDV, <em> Bastide Niel</em> at the Miroir d’Eau. Above: Ramillien architecture & Lou Andréa Lassalle, <em>Vendredi 14</em>. Photo by Vincent Monthiers
Top: MVRDV, Bastide Niel at the Miroir d’Eau. Above: Ramillien architecture & Lou Andréa Lassalle, Vendredi 14 . Photo by Vincent Monthiers
The Center of Exhibitions and Congresses of Bordeaux, known as Hangar 14 , it has been the chosen one as center of operations of the biennale, where the visitor could find different exhibitions, debates and conferences, complemented by some other workshops, guided tours and exhibitions scattered throughout different areas of the city. In Hangar 14, one could see interesting video-installations considering the issue of heritage in different cities abroad. From Amsterdam — which doesn't hesitate to continuously destroy and reconstruct —, to Dresden — which hasn't constructed a single new building in its city centre for the last 50 years —, by way of Krakow — trying to reconstruct its identity —, or the Persian Gulf States — which seek to invent their own heritage.
Base Sous Marine exhibition centre. Photo by Pierre Planchenault
Base Sous Marine exhibition centre. Photo by Pierre Planchenault
Taking place between 13 and 16 of September, the biennale coincided with the Days of Heritage, celebrated in the whole of France, during which several public and private buildings have been opened for the public. An example is the Maison of Madame Lemoine, one of Rem Koolhaas's masterpieces.

Among the exhibitions inaugurated during Agora — most of which remain on view through the next months —, it is important to highlight the Carlo and Tobia Scarpa retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring an enlightened selection of their most distinguished architecture and industrial design works. Another space of enormous attraction and headquarters of diverse exhibitions is the Base Sous-Marine, a former military base for submarines located in Bacalan's former port neighborhood, which is host to Ici Design's Poussons les murs , and EPFL Lausanne's exhibition of student works.
Every two years Agora's curator selects a topic for the interest of the city, and transforms Bordeaux into a huge urban lab, a hub of ideas where some of the most relevant architects debate about the city's future
Video installation at Hangar 14. Photo by Vincent-Monthiers
Video installation at Hangar 14. Photo by Vincent-Monthiers
The famous Centre of Architecture Arc en Rêve has developed a wide offer for the occasion, including Iwan Baan's re-visitation of the classic architecture icons of Chandigarh and Brasilia, Rétrospective perspectives Him Grand-Parc on the homonymous project for the transformation of three buildings in Bordeaux by Lacaton & Vassal, and CUB50.000* , a research to densify Bordeaux's city centre, featuring the work of L'AUC , Lacaton & Vassal and OMA , among others.
A discussion with Rem Koolhaas and Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe. Photo by Rodolph Escher
A discussion with Rem Koolhaas and Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe. Photo by Rodolph Escher
Parallel to the exhibitions, a series of debates sought to find response to issues on the future of the cities, the doubt between the preservation or the demolition of the built-up heritage, and the future economic development of cities that have lost its industry and do not plan to recover it. Debate participants included Rem Koolhaas, Eduardo Souto de Moura, MVRDV's Winy Maas, OMA France's Clément Blanchet, Anne Lacaton, Jean Philippe Vassal or L'AUC's Djamel Klouche, face-to-face with politicians and experts of different areas.
Installation view at the Centre Arc en Rêve. Photo by Rodolph Escher
Installation view at the Centre Arc en Rêve. Photo by Rodolph Escher
Arguably, Agora could be described as a "fake" biennale if compared to an event such as the Venice Architecture Biennale, but looking at the Bordeaux event from another angle might raise the doubt: could it even be more pertinent to create this kind of event? Every two years Agora's curator selects a topic for the interest of the city, and transforms Bordeaux into a huge urban lab, a hub of ideas where some of the most relevant architects debate the future of the city. Isn't it better than a battlefield to see what country is the bigger fish in the bowl? Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (@GonzaloHerrero), María José Marcos (@magicarch)
<em>Agora</em> presentation to the public, with an intervention by politician and author Erik Orsenna
Agora presentation to the public, with an intervention by politician and author Erik Orsenna
<em>PI 3,14</em>, a project by students Victoire Delpierre, Cynthia Gomes, Federica Nassetti, Elisa Pupillo and Raffaella Ratti, part of the research presented at <em>Design in the city</em>
PI 3,14 , a project by students Victoire Delpierre, Cynthia Gomes, Federica Nassetti, Elisa Pupillo and Raffaella Ratti, part of the research presented at Design in the city
Yochai Matos, <em>You are a saint</em>
Yochai Matos, You are a saint
Ici Design, <em>Poussons les murs</em> installation view at Base Sous Marine
Ici Design, Poussons les murs installation view at Base Sous Marine

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