Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Project Darwin - Bordeaux's Eco-System in the Bastide Quarter

The Eco-System of the Caserne Niel
Everyone seems to be talking about Project Darwin of just Darwin- lately in Bordeaux. Have your seen Darwin? Have you been to Darwin?  But what exactly is it?   In short, it's a rehabilitation project, it's multi-dimensional-it's green growth - it's artistic and its social. 
First, the Darwin site is made up of historical buildings which were formerly military barracks (Caserne Niel) located on Bordeaux's right bank in the Bastide quarter.  In an effort to preserve these buildings and their heritage, the city of Bordeaux approved a renovation project and design to create new business opportunities, stores, restaurants, commercial space, and housing all within a creative ecological pursuit which concentrated on green growth and recycling.  Additionally space was created for social and artistic activities within the community, giving it a full rounded approach.

In other words, this Project Darwin is a self-sustaining community within itself.  It's a place for people & businesses to gather, work, socialize and even live, while keeping in mind, modern day ecological and environmental concerns.
 Why the name Darwin, what's in a name?  Yes, this community is named after the famous Charles Darwin (Naturalist and best known for his theory of evolution).   Darwin was also a man open to exploration and how his evolution theory fit into changing world organization.  In other words, how did species adapt as the times changed?    He was a pioneer and he challenged established scientific models, looking for new results, new directions.  This was his legacy and this is exactly  why this eco-system has claimed his name - they look to be an innovative model in today's modern society which needs to be more concerned about the environment, use of materials, waste and green growth.
So a couple weeks ago, friends  of mine and I decided to check out this hip new community that is attracting so many young adults.  We decided to have lunch at the General Magasin organic restaurant and I was impressed with the age range of persons eating and socializing there.  This combination organic (bio- in French) restaurant and grocery store was plenty busy and it was very evident that people appreciated the approach of fresh organic food in the atmosphere that kept in mind so many environmental concerns.  

Outside of the restaurant - there is a wooden sculpture that artistically covers a foodbridge connecting 2 buildings.  This innvoative creative design had streaming lights running and flickering through the sculpture - Thes lights measure the usage of electricity for the buildings and serve as a visual reminder of energy use.  This was a crisp sunny Winter day - but there were still plenty of people outside enjoying the outdoor cafe scene.  I know in the Spring and summer time these cafes are bustling and full.
After lunch we took walk around the site.  Again, these are old barracks that have been renovated or their usage updated for today's society.  For example one of the former building houses a skate park.  This closed in but open to the air structure is a great use of space for today's youth.  Street artists have also made their mark with graffiti on the building - interestingly enough giving it a re-newed look and making it even more attractive for today's youth to come and enjoy.
This community is still growing and the plan is to install some housing within the property creating even more a sense of living, working and being in a self-sustaining community.  There are already portable modules designed for temporary housing, there is space allocated for gardens and yes, a whole recycling center for the community is also part of one of the old buildings.  This area is very much an example of re utilizing and revitalizing an old space without razing it to the ground and starting fresh.  This approach embraces the history of the past but allows for modern usage and environmental concerns within today's modern society.  
Darwin is located in the Bastide along the right bank of the river.  It's only minutes from tram stops - Jardin Botanique or Stalingrad and it's also about a 20 minute walk from Bassin a Flot/Chartrons across the new Chabon Delmas bridge.  It's a beautiful contrasting view to be standing across the street from these historic buildings and look across to the modern Chabon Delmas bridge.  This is just one more example of how the city of Bordeaux is doing an excellent job of combining it's history and heritage with today's modern society and needs.

If you live in Bordeaux or are coming for a visit, this place is definitely worth checking out and exploring!

Lou Messugo

Ersatz Expat


  1. I was just in Bordeaux last month and cannot believe how much has changed in such a short time. As I drove in on my usual route, more and more new developments and less and less grimey looking buildings.
    Will be back for Austria's opening game mid June.

    1. Yes, I definitely agree Bordeaux keeps changing and growing. I particularly love the mix of the old and the new! Glad to hear from you - hope all is going well.

  2. I've also heard great things about the Darwin centre, and your lovely photos confirm this. I wanted to stop and look last time I was in Bdx but I didn't see any signs to it - so now, thanks to your directions, I know where to get off the tram.
    Harriet Springbett.

    1. Hi Harriet - Thanks for taking the time to comment. You are right, there are no real signs to it - it's definitely understated in that way. I hope you get a chance to visit and walk around, it's really a neat place. Have a great weekend.

  3. This sounds like an excellent regeneration project. I love it when cities invest in their future by renovating the old in an innovative way. One day I'll get to Bordeaux and visit Darwin with you Jen! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Hi Phoebe - Yes, I think you will love Bordeaux!! The more I hear about Darwin, the more I love the concept. I love also that the teenagers also think it's a cool place! My daughter will go there with her friends to hang out at the cafe and to take photos of the street art. Thanks for commenting and your committment to #allaboutfrance

  4. What a fascinating project, it looks like something to go back and see time and time again as it grows. Thanks for linking to #TravelAtHome


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