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A hangar for life: Apartment complex in Bordeaux

The Bassins à flot harbour neighbourhood northeast of the city centre is currently undergoing a change. In the old days, the district was known for building and repairing ships; even submarines were once stationed here. Nowadays, new residential buildings and postindustrial working spaces are taking over. Among the new constructions, rows of houses originally put up for harbour workers can still be found, as can old industrial halls. Some of the latter are still used for commercial purposes.

With this new design, ANMA (Agence Nicolas Michelin & Associés) have not relied on ideas of the typical bourgeois row house or the block construction method seen in the inner-city district directly to the south. Rather, the architects have taken up the heterogeneous, large-format constructions of the harbour area itself. Two ribbon-style buildings of either four or five storeys, each ten metres wide, are covered with shed roofing. They stand along the main street, which runs north-south. The north end of the complex features a ten-storey tower that calls to mind an old port silo.

Communal garden on the first storey
The two structures are connected via a ground-floor garage and a 1,500-m² glassed-in atrium on the first storey. At first glance, the long conservatory looks like a public access space, but actually, it can be reached only via six different stairways in the side wings – and the apartments on the first storey.

In detail, this shared central space has a few special characteristics. For instance, unlike most atria it is higher than its adjacent building wings (except the tower). The window apertures at the very top of both long walls open onto free space. To be more precise, they open onto the terraces of the neighbouring attic apartments.

The atrium’s height and resulting thermal lift support the ventilation of the apartments. In summertime, warm air flows out, rises into the atrium and drifts streetwards through slats in the roof. In the winter, the air exchange is reduced: the large space traps air and warms it before it finds its way into the flats.

The glazed surfaces and vents in the atrium’s roof are, as with a true shed roof, concentrated on the north-facing side. The south sides have been equipped with solar panels. Only a few narrow, glazed areas around the edges of the roof provide more airiness and allow additional daylight into the complex.

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