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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

Ville d’Hiver, Arcachon & Soulac-sur-Mare, SW France

Architect in France
Ville d’Hiver, Arcachon

Ville d’Hiver, Arcachon

Arcachon is a seaside resort town 55 km south-west of Bordeaux in south-west France and situated on Arcachon Bay which is famous for its oyster beds. The town became popular as a seaside resort in the late 19th century when its sandy beaches became popular for sea bathing and its mild climate close to pine forests was said to be good for invalids suffering from pulmonary diseases.

The town has four districts named after the four seasons and the Ville d’ Ete is famous for its up-market shopping streets and the Ville d’Hiver is famous for its extravagant 19th century villas.

The Ville d’Hiver was developed by two brothers, Emile and Isaac Pereire who owned the railway that ran from Bordeaux to La Teste (not far from Arcachon) and who wanted to increase traffic on the railway throughout the year and not just in the summer season. They bought land above the Ville d’Ete in 1860 and subdivided it for the construction of individual villas in the ‘picturesque’ style. This was a reaction to the classical revival style and embraced a number of styles related to a romanticised past; Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Swiss Cottage, Colonial, Moorish, etc and had no overriding coherent theory. The villas typically include a number of architectural elements such as large roof overhangs with exposed and decoratively worked roof timbers; timber fretwork; balconies, fair-faced brickwork; oriels; belvederes, turrets, porches, tiled panels, etc and most are asymmetric in design.

It should be noted here that in the UK at this time, the Arts and Crafts movement was attempting to re-establish traditional skills and craftsmanship that were being threatened by industrialisation and was producing houses superficially similar to some of those in the Ville d’Hiver. There were however more coherent ideas and theories behind this movement such as the need to use local materials and craftsmanship and traditional construction; be free of any imposed styles or spurious ornaments and provide clarity of form and structure.

The Pereire brothers originally saw the Ville d’Hiver as a gigantic sanatorium where the sick could stay with their families and servants in houses that they bought or rented furnished but as it developed and became more popular more and more people had their own houses designed and built. The streets were laid out in curves with large plots and lots of trees and an English Park was constructed together with an English church and a Moorish casino. The Ville d’Hiver then started to attract the rich from all over the world, including the crowned heads of Europe, both for their health and to entertain themselves at the casino and hotels and more villas were built to house them. It remained popular and continued to develop until the great depression of the 1930s when it went into decline. It has however been protected since 1985 and is now very popular again as can be seen from the beautiful condition of most of the houses. Many of the houses have now been sub-divided but some of them are still in one family occupancy. Hardly social housing but very interesting for all that!


Architect in France


Soulac-sur-Mer is a small coastal resort town 86 km north of Bordeaux on the cote d’Argent near the tip of the Medoc peninsular and it has a similar history to that of Arcachon. It started as a small sea-side town in the 1860s when sea bathing started to become popular and then began to develop more quickly after the opening of the railway from Bordeaux in 1874.

It is now a very popular resort town but it has managed to retain its ‘Belle Epoque’ character because of the villas constructed during that period that still remain in the town (allegedly 500 in number). They are similar to the villas in the Ville d’Hiver (particularly in the detailing of the timber roofs) but they are on a much smaller scale.


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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