Lebanese architecture firm Youssef Tohme Architects and Associates reimagines Bordeaux

The French city of Bordeaux is in the throes of a renaissance. In an ambitious urban plan initiated by current mayor Alain Juppé, Bordeaux will soon have dozens of new buildings to house around 300,000 inhabitants, gain a sizeable amount of green space for added leisure, as well as enjoying a dazzling arts and entertainment district – without having to expand its city limits.

This urban revolution comes courtesy of Youssef Tohme Architects and Associates (YTAA), the Lebanese architecture firm founded in 2008 by Tohme and Anastasia Elrouss. Juppé commissioned YTAA to undertake a complete overhaul of the derelict, formerly industrial neighborhood of Brazza, in an attempt to revitalise the area and encourage people to move back to the inner city from Bordeaux’s outlying suburbs. The plan also received support from Bordeaux’s general director of urban planning, Michèle Laruë-Charlus, who has worked for many years to develop her home city.

YTAA’s long list of projects includes various residential villas throughout Lebanon, in such areas at Kornet Chehwan, Ajaltoun and Akoura, Beirut’s Saint Joseph University Campus de l’Innovation et du Sport (in collaboration with 109 Architects) and the BLF disaster center in Ghazir. The firm is also designing the museum of contemporary and recent Romanian art in Bucharest, but the Brazza project is undoubtedly the most challenging of YTAA’s ventures to date.

“Brazza is an 800,000-square-metre deserted industrial site hidden by forests, lying on the right side of the Garonne river,” explains Elrouss, co-founder and partner at YTAA. Historic Bordeaux – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – lies on the left bank of the Garonne. The two sides of the river were linked in 2013 via the Jacques Chaban-Delmas drawbridge and now feature two distinctive public riverside areas where people walk, run and engage in a variety of leisure activities. “The bridge was the inspiration for our intervention,” says Elrouss. “From the bridge, we wanted to see a pure, forested landscape with repetitive trees, so we created three axes that link the bridge, the forest and the Parc des Angéliques to Brazza.”

Four types of structures are set to rise among Brazza’s forested cityscape. First, there are residential buildings on stilts, to be constructed within gardens and linked to Brazza’s planned green belts. The stilts are ultra-high, measuring 4.5 to 5.5 metres, in order to encourage human interaction under the buildings. “There will be agricultural gardens under the stilts,” says Elrouss. There are also individual houses planned for those who prefer to live in houses, rather than apartments, plus buildings that sit directly on the Garonne and offer views over the ancient part of Bordeaux, which lies right across the water.

The fourth type of structure is dubbed “capable volume.” “The capable volumes look like old industrial buildings,” explains Elrouss, “and they can be residential, commercial or industrial. They’re volumes created in relation to nature and in which people can intervene.” These structures allow each owner to customise the interior space according to his or her own needs.
Another highlight of YTAA’s vision for the future of Brazza is La Halle Soferti. The former factory will be transformed and reimagined as the neighbourhood’s entertainment centre, including a hotel and various stores, with access to an urban farm nearby.

“Our design for Brazza allows for evolution,” says Elrouss. “It puts the human being in the centre of the city and is part of nature. It creates liberty.” More than that, Brazza will serve as a glorious example for all of France, as Bordeaux becomes the first French city to place individual citizens’ needs at the very heart of urban renewal.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Collectors Issue #38, pages 124-126.