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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

Grand Parc, Bordeaux

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

Architect in France

After my recent rather hectic trip to Tajikistan to supervise the construction of rural health centres (of which, more later), my wife and I spent a weekend in Arcachon on the Atlantic coast, about 50 km from Bordeaux. On our last day there we went into Bordeaux (using park and ride and the city’s excellent tram system) as I wanted to see the Grand Parc Project in a suburb of Bordeaux.


This project, carried out by the Paris-based architectural practice of Lacaton and Vassal, renovated three social housing apartment blocks that were constructed in the 1960s and that contain 530 dwellings. Two of the blocks are 14-storey slab blocks and the other is slightly smaller. The demolition of the buildings had been ruled out and it was necessary to renovate the apartments without moving the residents out. The renovations had to improve the insulation of the buildings, upgrade the facilities within the apartments, to provide them with more space and improve their natural lighting and views.

The architects’ basic solution was very simple: to add 3.8 metre deep prefabricated modules to the front of the blocks (and in one case to the rear as well). The modules consist of pre-cast concrete slabs and columns that support winter gardens constructed of lightweight, corrugated, opaque, polycarbonate panels and clear glass panels and sliding doors in aluminium frames (with reflective solar curtains behind to reduce solar gains) and with narrow open balconies at the front.

The interiors of the apartments were renovated: the small windows at the front of the apartments were replaced with large openings containing sliding doors opening on to the winter gardens; the bathrooms were renovated and the electrical installations were improved. On two of the blocks, new entrances and lobbies were constructed on the entrance side of the buildings and new lifts were provided.

The scheduling of the work meant that the transformation of each apartment took between 12-16 days and the work was completed within the usual budget for this kind of work. As stated above the residents stayed in their apartments during the work and their rents were not raised after the renovations were completed.

Altogether to my mind, a brilliant piece of work. The residents now have larger, better lit and insulated and more comfortable apartments at no greater cost. If the UK still had any comparable, social housing this is definitely a model that could be followed but given the proclivities of our present government, this is unfortunately unlikely to happen.

The architects, Lacaton and Vassal won the 2019 EU Mies van de Rohe prize for contemporary architecture with this project. The photo gallery below shows some of the existing apartment blocks that have not been upgraded as well as those that have been. We could not get into the buildings but I found a photo on the web of one of the winter gardens.




Architecture in Developing Countries: A Resource

The design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health in rural areas of the developing world.

Nigel Wakeham is an architect who lived for 23 years in Southern and West Africa and the SW Pacific working on education, health and other projects. He has since worked for over 20 years as a consultant for national governments and agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, ADB and AfDB on the implementation of the construction components of education and health projects in many countries in the developing world.​

​The objective of this website will be to provide the benefit of more than 45 years of experience of working in developing countries to architects and other construction professionals involved in the design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health. It will provide reference material from the projects that Nigel has worked on and technical information on the design, construction and maintenance of educational and health facilities and other relevant topics and these will be added to from time to time.

I am happy to be contacted by anyone requiring further information on any of the projects or resources referred to in this website or by anyone wishing to discuss work possibilities.


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