Bjarke Ingels Group, in association with Freaks Architecture, recently completed a large new cultural center in Bordeaux, France. As you'd expect from a firm with BIG's pedigree, there are several interesting aspects of the design, including a sheltered outdoor space for socializing called the "urban living room" and a "periscope" that allows diners in a restaurant to gaze upon the people outside, and vice-versa.
Named MÉCA (Maison de l'Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine), the building's facade is made up of 4,800 prefabricated concrete panels that weigh up to 1.6 tons each, mixed with glazing at certain points to control interior light. The concrete was sandblasted and yellow granules were added to create a subtle sense of warmth.
Steps and ramps lead up from an adjacent promenade to the sheltered outdoor urban living room at MÉCA's center, which will be used as a space for concerts, theatrical performances, sculptures and more, as well as a place for people to socialize.
"The urban room is at once a frame for the artwork, a stage for the performances, a screening room for the media collections and perhaps most importantly, an open room for the urban life of Bordeaux to invade and engage with the arts," says BIG partner Jakob Sand. "The visitors are almost participating in an installation, just by being there. In addition, large bleachers on either side of the building invites people to hang out and enjoy amazing views of the River Garonne and the city."
The interior measures 18,000 sq m (roughly 194,000 sq ft) and includes a contemporary arts venue, a cinema, literature and audiovisuals center, and a performing arts center. Elsewhere is a public rooftop terrace offering views of the city.
Visitors enter into the lobby, which makes much use of concrete and has a spiral seating pit at its center. As a nod to the city's wine production, a restaurant adjacent to this space is equipped with red furniture and cork chairs. The periscope is installed nearby.
Bringing to mind BIG's ship-shaped office, the periscope is quite simple and consists of a large angled mirror and windows positioned so that people in the restaurant can gaze on the people hanging out in the urban room while they dine and those outside can look inside too.
"When a region or a city invests millions in a major new cultural institution, it often ends up benefiting only the informed few that already have an interest in the arts," says BIG founder Bjarke Ingels. "Not only does MÉCA spill its activities into the public realm and the urban room, but the public is also invited to walk around, through, above and below the new cultural gateway. By inviting the arts into the city and the city into the arts, MÉCA will provide opportunities for new hybrids of cultural and social life beyond the specific definitions of its constituent parts."
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