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The Cité du Vin in Bordeaux: a dialogue between its two architects

The Cité du Vin on Bordeaux’s left bank

How to make an ultra-contemporary architectural statement that draws on local traditions and terroirs? That was the challenge taken up by two architects from the XTU agency, Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières, who joined forces to come up with a gilded and curvacious masterpiece whose very shape conjures up the soul of wine, between the river and the city of Bordeaux. Let's hear what they have to say.

Three years of work, 13,350 m² of architectural space, the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, dedicated to the art of oenology across the world, was a massive project. How did you win it?

It was an international competition with a set of specifications that mainly revolved around scheduling and budget. There were 5 teams of architects competing at the beginning and we were given carte blanche as far as the architecture was concerned.

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Evoking the world of wine without making any direct reference was a real architectural challenge. Did you face any difficulties during the process?

From the competition to the actual delivery, the whole process was free of interruptions, which is fairly unique for a project of this size! In fact, we optimised the techniques we used like the wooden structure, or certain arches which are at their maximum capacity. We also adopted an environmentally-friendly approach, with sustainable materials, but also an urban heating network based on renewables.

Where did the inspiration for the building come from?

The concept emerged during our meetings with winegrowers, especially following an exceptional tasting ceremony for a grand cru where we suddenly understood the power of this world. The project set out to capture a sense of plenitude both in terms of the interior and exterior, which explains the impression of a 'temple of wine' with a structure that resembles vines.

Why do curves play such an inspiring role in your work?

A curve is a way of linking different functions of a project while adapting to the site. It both creates interior spaces and interesting volumes. In our approach, we want to make coherent continuous buildings – holistic buildings.

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How to showcase viticultural traditions without descending into clichés?

Our architecture factors in the geographic context, carrying on the tradition of the historic quays, the curves of the river, and the technical constraints. We used these elements to create a coherent building which also conjures up the soul of wine.

Why did you opt for a gold colour scheme for the building and not the colour Bordeaux, so symbolic of the town?

We did suggest that, but following talks with the architect of French national buildings and the UNESCO committee, a golden brown seemed a better choice because it harmonised better with the colour of the city – the limestone of the old buildings and the river itself.

How can a visitor best experience the building? Is there a particular route to follow?

The huge curved volume which you see from the outside encircles an immense patio, where there are 14 themed modules which you can visit as you please, created by the scenographers Casson Mann. The space was conceived like a great immersive landscape, with 450 arches and floors laid out on different levels. The visit culminates in a viewing area, a well of light with a 'bottle' ceiling, where you have a panoramic view of Bordeaux, the Garonne river and the vineyards all around...

Visit the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux