"Species that survive are not the strongest, nor the smartest species, but the ones that best adapt to change.” So said Charles Darwin, originator of the theory of evolution, and this sentiment is the cornerstone of the Darwin project. Recycled urban wasteland connecting with innovative businesses and associations, artists, leisure companies, bistros and more – but all have something in common, they’re accessible, functional and provide a service.
Located on the Quai des Queyries, between the Pont de Pierre and the Chaban-Delmas bridge, Darwin occupies 10,000 m2 on the site of a former military barracks which was once abandoned. It was purchased in 2009 by the Evolution group who had a plan to renovate the land and the buildings. The project has been 95% funded by private investment and Darwin has become the symbolic centre of entrepreneurship in Bordeaux. The scheme has brought together no less than 230 companies, 20 associations and a school which offers its 60 students an alternative and personalized education. One of Darwin's greatest strengths is its substantial events programme, ranging from yoga sessions to Darwin Ocean Climax, a festival of debates, conferences and concerts on the theme of climate change and protection of the oceans.
After the departure of the military in 2005, the barracks became a favoured destination for graffitists and street artists. Darwin continues to encourage and support this form of artistic expression, turning the area into an open-air gallery. In 2017, the international graffiti festival, Shake Well, took place in Darwin. The scenery of the art changes frequently, wander from one wall to another to admire the mix of styles and eye-popping colours that make for great photo opps.
For urban skateboarder fans, Bordeaux has several terrific sites to practice the slide. Darwin's skatepark has rapidly established itself as one of the best. Designed from recycled materials, the former military hangar offers a fabulous range of wooden slides and inclines including a seriously impressive ramp with an extension. There are also jump tables, curbs and a wooden bowl – skateboarders are guaranteed thrills galore. Lessons are available for beginners whether individuals or groups.
With a reputation for being as tasty as it’s generous, the brunch at the Magasin Général, Darwin's bistro-cum-dining hall, is one of the most popular in Bordeaux. The industrial setting is perfectly offset with accessories of odds and ends and eclectic furniture recycled from old wine crates, salvaged sofas and even reworked surfboards. The Magasin Général is open daily from 10h-18h and 10h-24h at weekends. Not just great for the delicious dishes, but there’s a superb terrace, perfect for a chill in the sun. Booking in advance is recommended, this place is very popular.
Le Magasin Général (The General Store)
Since its creation 10 years ago, Darwin has been passionate about practicing energy saving and sustainable practices. There’s no air conditioning, natural lighting is optimised and wherever possible energy saving habits are the order of the day. In 2014, an artistic light sculpture known as the Vortex was inaugurated. Wrapping around a bridge which connects the two buildings of the Niel barracks, it indicates energy consumption via illuminated tubes that flash and pulse. A true work of art in the spirit of Darwin.
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