The Best City in the World Shares its Recipe: The Agora Biennale in Bordeaux

The Best City in the World Shares its Recipe: The Agora Biennale in Bordeaux

Lonely Planet picked Bordeaux as the best city in the world to visit, so there must be lessons to be learned from this exciting success story. The travel guide praises the new TGV ultra-connection to Paris in less than 2 hours, the superbly grand architecture, decadent gourmet scene, and the recently opened Cité du Vin. While all these are truly wonderful features, the secret recipe relies in no small part on Bordeaux’s forward-looking approach to urban planning.

Every two years, the city holds a mega-meet up of the best minds in architecture and urbanism. In this edition of the Agora Biennale the theme is the metropolitan landscape. The biennale aims to enter into a dialogue with the public about their quality of life, based on the premise that beyond stone and concrete, a city is built with its inhabitants, their lives, their actions, and their thoughts.

‘Since cities have become metropolises, urbanization has become planetary’ said Belgian architect/landscaper Bas Smets, Curator of the Augmented Landscapes flagship exhibition at the H14, ‘With a world population in excess of 7.5 billion, half of whom live in metropolises, with the loss of natural habitats becoming irreversible and humanity still unable to estimate the impacts of climate change, it is time to redefine the ambition of the landscape project. The days of the fortified city are over, when there was a clear distinction between the ‘inner’, and the ‘outer’ parts. ”

Bas Smets, Curator ©Bart Dewaele

At the main venue of the Biennale, Hangar 14, the landscape has taken over. A ‘river’ of signs flowing through a forest of 300 trees, which will be replanted after the exhibition, effectively converting the show into the landscape. If Bordeaux today emerged as a torchbearer of urban reinvention, these grand concepts were once just a fickle flicker of the imagination.

“The centre of Bordeaux has shifted,” said Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux and President of Bordeaux Métropole, ‘Nowadays, it includes a large natural space: the seven kilometres of Garonne redeveloped riverbank. This migration… perhaps would not have been possible without a change in the way Bordeaux is perceived by the collective subconscious.’

Bordeaux reclaimed its riverfront ©Marc Ryckaert

As part of the Biennale there are exhibitions, debates, films, games and competitions in 60 different sites, neighbourhoods and municipalities around Bordeaux Métropole, including full-scale models, pop-up restaurants, edible gardens and even a mushroom farm in an underground restaurant, plus surprising art installations. Take the striking Spaghetti Benches by Franco-Argentine sculptor Pablo Reinoso. Set in the most Instagrammed landmark in Bordeaux, the ‘water mirror’ fountain in Place de la Bourse, Reinoso’s installation is an opportunity to see the city through the eye of the imagination. First, the mist of water rises, and the city disappears in the clouds. As the fog descends the mirror reflects the landscape upside-down as if you had your feet in the sky. Finally, the water mirror dissipates to reveals the familiar Place de la Bourse.

Spaghetti Benches by Pablo Reinoso ©Courtesy of the artist

It is not by random chance that Bordeaux places among the most liveable cities in the world. Having grasped the importance of landscape in urban life, Bordeaux keeps reimagining its future, and sharing the inspiration. We are already looking forward to the next edition of the Agora Bordeaux Biennial of Architecture,Urbanism and Design in 2019.

Until Sunday September 24
Hangar 14, quai des Chartrons

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Sylvia Edwards Davis is a writer and correspondent based in France with a focus on business and culture. A member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia scans the cultural landscape to bring you the most relevant highlights on current events, art exhibitions, museums and festivals.

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  • Phil Baillie
    2017-09-21 21:30:47
    Phil Baillie
    If France Todai would like to attract people to the areas of France, particularly from parts of the world other than Britain, it would be really helpful to include a tiny location map of the area being reviewed so we can see if it is near the regions we are visiting at a glance. It my be clear to you but generally not to us without reference to another map. We are currently travelling through France for 6 weeks and want to plug into the current scene.


  • Bob Rossi
    2017-09-20 17:18:01
    Bob Rossi
    I've been to Bordeaux several times in the last few years, and also in 1979. While it's vastly improved from 1979, and is an enjoyable place to visit, to label it "The best city in the world to visit" is absurd. I haven't read the Lonely Planet article or book where that appeared, but I'd be curious to see their criteria.