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Anouk Legendre, architect

Published 03 January 2016

Guided tour of La Cité du Vin construction with Anouk Legendre, XTU architects

December 2015. La Cité du Vin is like a giant anthill teeming night and day with the workers who are the linchpins of this beautiful building. Just over three months until the building is handed over – and six until it is opened to the public! Construction is going full speed ahead. The last glass and metal panels have just been positioned on the facade, giving the outer shell its definitive appearance. Amid this ongoing hustle and bustle, a woman in high heels and a tailored red jacket roams all floors with a purposeful air, scrutinising every last detail. Surrounded by her team, the project’s architect Anouk Legendre examines, evaluates, photographs and takes note of all points requiring modification: an air vent here, an incorrect colour there, visible fixing points. Not a single detail escapes her and she keeps an eye on everything. Her daily task is to safeguard the soul of her project, this place which she has imagined as a harmonious whole.

Guided tour with La Cité du Vin’s ‘master craftswoman’. ‘

The project is part of a global environmental approach. A green piazza next to the river will refresh the environment. The building is covered with perforated sun protection to optimise air circulation within the structure. We have of course complied with all energy standards. The same goes for limiting solar heat inputs and compensating for heat production’, she begins with a meaningful gesture around her as we pass through the tall entrance at a hurried pace.

An ambition to fit La Cité du Vin into its surroundings

The initial aim of the building’s architecture was to create a genuine bond between La Cité du Vin and the spaces surrounding it through perpetual movement. The very distinctive shape of La Cité reconnects it with its muses: wine swirling in a glass, the eddies of the Garonne, gnarled vine stock, every detail evoking the soul of wine and liquid elements.

Changing with the sunshine or the time of day, the building ‘answers’ the river with its reflections: there are very close parallels with a wine’s constantly changing appearance. The very distinctive shape causes you to look at the river running past from a different perspective. The building’s two entrances on either side create an impression of movement, ebb and flow between inside and outside. One entrance faces the city and the other faces the river. Higher up, the belvedere enables visitors to discover the illuminated city and the surrounding land, almost like a watchtower.

An exhibition as a voyage of discovery

In the eyes of Anouk Legendre, the main exhibition itself follows these flows: wine, the river, the flow of visitors. You pass through the building like a river, with visitors becoming voyagers flowing around the central staircase, perpetuating this impression of movement. Visitors are constantly moving as they experience a virtuous circle of discovery. Each person discovers a new world in a fluid, rotating motion leading to an unusual, limitless destination, like a journey through the meanderings of a cultural landscape which feeds the imagination.

The initial aim was for the building programme to develop in line with the scenography, making the architecture a voyage in itself. Downstairs is therefore a dark world, like a cellar, with the roots of the vines. The ground floor is raw – it is a stepping stone for immersion into the project, a crossing point. The mirror reflections are disorienting and encourage visitors to move upwards towards the light. They feel this light on the patio then follow it through the structure until it finally explodes. There is no fixed route to follow, just worlds to discover. The aim of the experience is to appeal to the imagination. Sometimes the architecture steps back, in other places it reappears.

The wooded arch of the permanent exhibition, the strongest area of La Cité du Vin, is like a varied sky. The sky is everything in winemaking, determining the harvest. This wooden sky rises, undulates and tightens. Once again, this is all about movement. The wooden structure is reminiscent of a timber frame, of boats, of wine on its travels. It is an immersive break with reality, a world of roundness, fluidity and elevation approximating the wine experience. It is not always very clear and not all interpretations are the same, just like with wine. Visitors want to learn something and are in a discovery mind-set triggered by the architecture, which creates the right conditions for them to discover and complete this immersive, initiatory journey.

Anouk Legendre concludes this fast-paced tour of the site. ‘The building under construction is very close to my original mental image. Its scale is even more impressive than it was on paper. You could describe it as a cocoon with a softness that takes nothing away from its power.’

This meeting with the architect has undoubtedly left the people on the tour in the same state as visitors will be – unsettled yet lulled by promises of discovery. La Cité du Vin is therefore in line with its initial aim, namely to give visitors an impression of multiple worlds and make them forget their prejudices to construct their own tour and experience an atypical form of exploration.