Bordeaux’s monumental new cultural hub MÉCA (Maison de l'Économie Créative et de la Culture en Aquitaine) stands as a totemic presence on the banks of the Garonne River. The first project on French soil for Danish practice BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, this joint design with Parisian firm Freaks Architecture posed as much of a technical as an urban design challenge. Nearly a thousand pixel-windows perforate the building’s shell in an exacting design specification that Reynaers Aluminium is proud to have helped meet.

Pixellated facade Custom-developed curtain wall solution using CW 86 and CW 50 systems. 976 window frames create an alternating pattern among 4,800 rectangular prefabricated concrete cladding panels.

A Cultural Gateway

MÉCA’s asymmetrical arch – 37 m high by 120 m wide – distorts perspectives and vanishing points. “The building forms a single vertical loop, sweeping from the former slaughterhouses to the Garonne waterfront around a hollow central space linked by rising promenades from both sides,” explains Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG. This new multidisciplinary arts venue stands in the heart of the up-and-coming area around Saint Jean train station on Bordeaux’s right bank. Over some 13,000 m2 MÉCA brings together three regional arts agencies – FRAC (regional collection of contemporary art), OARA (performing arts) and ECLA (cinema, literature and audiovisuals) – under one roof. President of the regional council Alain Rousset wanted “a magical, transparent place that encourages a flow of movement between the city, the Garonne riverfront and the train station” – and that’s exactly what he’s got, with the opening last summer of this “regional hub of cultural activity”.

CW 86 Curtain Walls, CP 130 (-LS) Sliding Systems and CW 50 Curtain Walls - Entertainment LA MÉCA located in Bordeaux, France

Combining two distinct structures, the arch rests on two concrete piers connected across their two upper levels by a steel-framed bridge. Delivery of the structural works and shell was led by GTM Bâtiment Aquitaine (Vinci Construction France), and the participating construction companies had to overcome a host of technical challenges to stay true to the project’s design aesthetic. Central to the project managers’ intentions was to create a flush facade of limited depth.

“We were constrained both by the exterior geometry and the interior spaces,” explains Ivan Mata of Freaks Architecture. “Our consulting engineers carried out several simulations for us, in order to slim down the cladding structure as much as possible. The building is covered in about 4,800 rectangular prefabricated concrete panels (measuring 3.6 m by 0.6 m, on average), alternating with horizontal fenestration, using an invisible fixing system.” Securely attaching the heavy panels – which weigh in at 250 kg each – presented a real challenge on this facade with its several steeply inclined planes. The project team tested several formats for the hundreds of pixel-windows that perforate the curtain wall in random patterns. “In the end we went for windows that are only 60 cm high,” continues Mata. “Taking into account the depth dimension of the facade, it means that these openings also serve as a large expanse of sun baffles. They reduce solar heat gain, while still letting in a lot of natural daylight.” Architectural glass specialists Coveris used Reynaers Aluminium profiles for the 976 window frames, the vertical and inclined curtain walls, and the monumental entrance doors.

CW 86 Curtain Walls, CP 130 (-LS) Sliding Systems and CW 50 Curtain Walls - Entertainment LA MÉCA located in Bordeaux, France

The challenge of producing a smooth facade with clean lines required a combination of different technical responses, as Reynaers Aluminium regional technical representative Philippe Marti explains: “All the windows are fitted on custom-sized CW 86 fixed frames. These designs align seamlessly with the cladding panels to give a flush facade.

The 60 cm height remains constant, with three different widths – some fixed, and some awning windows that are hinged at the top. The sloping curtain walls were clad with the CW 50 system using very thin clips, and the sliding glass wall system on the panoramic terrace (six leaves, three-rail track) is made with CP 130-LS profiles. The pocketing entrance doors give an unobstructed 2.5 metre-high opening that measures almost 12 m across, a very substantial operating configuration. The fixed doors on the side employ CD 68 profiles.” This landmark project presented Reynaers Aluminium with two very specific requirements: all the profiles called for a raw aluminium finish, and the workmanship had to be incredibly precise to achieve the smooth shell specified by the architects. The kinetic quality of this building’s facade shows how triumphantly the challenge was met. By Sophie Roulet

Bordeaux, France View on map