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MAISON DE L’ÉCONOMIE CRéATIVE ET DE LA CULTURE EN AQUITAINE

BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group as Architects

The new 18,000 m2 Maison de l’Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine, MÉCA, creates a frame for the celebration of contemporary art, film and performances, giving Bordeaux the gift of art-filled public space from the waterfront to the city’s new urban room. Centrally located between the River Garonne and Saint-Jean train station, MÉCA, brings together three regional arts agencies – FRAC for contemporary art, ALCA for cinema, literature and audiovisuals, and OARA for performing arts – into a loop, cementing the UNESCO-listed city as the epicenter for culture.

 

The building is conceived as a single loop of cultural institutions and public space by extruding the pavement of the promenade to become the ramp that leads into the urban living room, the façade with glimpses into the stage towers of OARA and the offices of ALCA, and the rooftop enclosing the sky-lit galleries of FRAC. A series of steps and ramps lead the public directly into the 1,100 m2 outdoor urban room at the core of MÉCA, creating a porous institution for visitors to roam freely between the Quai de Paludate street to the river promenade. A 7m high MÉCA sign illuminates the space with white LED lights, like a modern chandelier at the scale of the urban room. During special occasions, MÉCA’s outdoor spaces can be transformed into a stage for concerts and theatrical spectacles or an extended gallery for sculptures and other art installations. A permanent bronze sculpture depicting a half-head of Hermes by French artist Benoît Maire intersects with the entrance on the riverside, inviting visitors to reflect on the contemporary culture of the region.

 

Upon entering MÉCA from the ground floor, visitors arrive at the lobby where they can relax in the spiral pit or dine at the restaurant Le CREM, furnished with red furniture and cork chairs designed by BIG in reference to the city known for wine. A giant periscope by the restaurant and elevators allows visitors to see the activity in the outdoor urban room and vise-versa, creating an indoor-outdoor dialogue. On the same ground floor, those with tickets can enjoy performances in OARA’s 250-seat theatre featuring flexible seating configurations and acoustic systems optimized by an all-black checkerboard panel of concrete, wood and perforated metal. Upstairs, filmgoers can view screenings at ALCA’s red-accented 80-seat cinema or visit the two production offices and project incubation area.

 

FRAC occupies the upper floors with 7m high exhibition spaces, production studios for artists, storage facilities, 90-seat auditorium and café. The 850 m2 public roof terrace serves as a flexible extension to the exhibition spaces, allowing future large-scale art installations and performances to be placed outdoors amid views of the city and the Basilica of St. Michael. MÉCA’s façade is composed almost entirely of 4,800 prefabricated concrete panels interspersed with windows of various sizes to control the amount of light entering inside and to create a sense of transparency. The concrete slabs, which weigh up to 1.6 tons, are sandblasted to expose its raw qualities and to texture the surface with the local sandstone of Bordeaux. Yellow granules for brightness and warmth radiate the building in the sun and integrates MÉCA as a familiar yet new vernacular sight to the city.

La Méca

Reynaers Aluminium as Manufacturers

Bordeaux’s monumental new cultural hub MÉCA (Maison de l'Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine) stands as a totemic presence on the banks of the Garonne River. The first project on French soil for Danish practice BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, this joint design with Parisian firm Freaks Architecture posed as much of a technical as an urban design challenge. Nearly a thousand pixel-windows perforate the building’s shell in an exacting design specification that Reynaers Aluminium is proud to have helped meet.

A Cultural Gateway

MÉCA’s asymmetrical arch – 37 m high by 120 m wide – distorts perspectives and vanishing points. “The building forms a single vertical loop, sweeping from the former slaughterhouses to the Garonne waterfront around a hollow central space linked by rising promenades from both sides,” explains Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG. This new multidisciplinary arts venue stands in the heart of the up-and-coming area around Saint Jean train station on Bordeaux’s right bank. Over some 13,000 m2 MÉCA brings together three regional arts agencies – FRAC (regional collection of contemporary art), OARA (performing arts) and ECLA (cinema, literature and audiovisuals) – under one roof. President of the regional council Alain Rousset wanted “a magical, transparent place that encourages a flow of movement between the city, the Garonne riverfront and the train station” – and that’s exactly what he’s got, with the opening last summer of this “regional hub of cultural activity”.

Combining two distinct structures, the arch rests on two concrete piers connected across their two upper levels by a steel-framed bridge. Delivery of the structural works and shell was led by GTM Bâtiment Aquitaine (Vinci Construction France), and the participating construction companies had to overcome a host of technical challenges to stay true to the project’s design aesthetic. Central to the project managers’ intentions was to create a flush facade of limited depth.

“We were constrained both by the exterior geometry and the interior spaces,” explains Ivan Mata of Freaks Architecture. “Our consulting engineers carried out several simulations for us, in order to slim down the cladding structure as much as possible. The building is covered in about 4,800 rectangular prefabricated concrete panels (measuring 3.6 m by 0.6 m, on average), alternating with horizontal fenestration, using an invisible fixing system.” Securely attaching the heavy panels – which weigh in at 250 kg each – presented a real challenge on this facade with its several steeply inclined planes. The project team tested several formats for the hundreds of pixel-windows that perforate the curtain wall in random patterns. “In the end we went for windows that are only 60 cm high,” continues Mata. “Taking into account the depth dimension of the facade, it means that these openings also serve as a large expanse of sun baffles. They reduce solar heat gain, while still letting in a lot of natural daylight.” Architectural glass specialists Coveris used Reynaers Aluminium profiles for the 976 window frames, the vertical and inclined curtain walls, and the monumental entrance doors.

The challenge of producing a smooth facade with clean lines required a combination of different technical responses, as Reynaers Aluminium regional technical representative Philippe Marti explains: “All the windows are fitted on custom-sized CW 86 fixed frames. These designs align seamlessly with the cladding panels to give a flush facade.

The 60 cm height remains constant, with three different widths – some fixed, and some awning windows that are hinged at the top. The sloping curtain walls were clad with the CW 50 system using very thin clips, and the sliding glass wall system on the panoramic terrace (six leaves, three-rail track) is made with CP 130-LS profiles. The pocketing entrance doors give an unobstructed 2.5 metre-high opening that measures almost 12 m across, a very substantial operating configuration. The fixed doors on the side employ CD 68 profiles.” This landmark project presented Reynaers Aluminium with two very specific requirements: all the profiles called for a raw aluminium finish, and the workmanship had to be incredibly precise to achieve the smooth shell specified by the architects. The kinetic quality of this building’s facade shows how triumphantly the challenge was met.

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