Cultural Regeneration – From heavy industry to poetic machinery in Nantes, France

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Agile City is a project based in the north of Glasgow in Scotland, in an area undergoing significant regeneration with arts and culture at its core. Working within this context we’re interested in looking towards other examples to deepen our understanding of how buildings, areas and cities can be reimagined through creative and cultural activity. We have written a series of 5 posts that explore this theme including; this one looking at L’île de Nantes in France; NDSM in Amsterdam; Hackney Wick and Fish Island in London, Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam; and Le Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal.

Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes, France

This former shipyard in L’île de Nantes in Western France is now an open public space based on the theme of ‘Eighty Days Around the World/ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ universe to honour the memory of Jules Vernes, Nantes’ most famous writer.

The lle de Nantes is located in the heart of the city along the banks of the Loire River and is a huge area undergoing redevelopment. The 337-hectare Ile de Nantes project is one of the largest urban projects in Europe, giving a new vocation to the site of the former shipyard, while still respecting its past.

The redevelopment of the warehouses safeguards and showcases the history of the shipyards, a symbol of the industrial and maritime culture of Nantes. These huge iron, concrete and steel warehouses were build in the early 20th century to house the metalworking shops of the Chantiers de la Loire shipyards. Until their closure in 1987, they were the mainstay of Nantes’ shipbuilding industry. The Machines, this open theme-park inspired by Jules Verne’s universe, has taken possession of the premises and has breathed new life into the warehouses, which are now public space for the city as well as open workshops for the machinists.

The Banana Warehouses (formerly storage for all the bananas sent over from Africa and the West Indies) these warehouses have now been turned into nightclubs, bars and restaurants – concentrating the main cultural, gastronomical and evening activities of the city. The eastern part of the island is undergoing the construction of eco-friendly accommodation as well as other commercial and administrative activities surrounded by lots of green spaces. Due to the size of the island, every type of activity can coexist without creating noise issues.

After the closure of the shipyards, this central place became shabby and was avoided by most of the inhabitants – which was not easy considering the island was the only access to the other side of the river Loire. This is now a vibrant mixed-used location and a national model of successful cultural-led urban renewal (every city in France wants to replicate!).

This project however, although widely seen as a success in culture-led urban regeneration and seen here in comparison to such prolific examples such as Bilbao’s Guggenheim anchor strategy, still faces a few critics. There has been a retaliation to the massive public investment in the island’s cultural venues, claiming this is at the expense of others spread throughout the city, and who now suffer from the attendance-magnet that the island’s become.

MIN (Marche d'Interet National). Nantes (Loire-Atlantique) 05/2003 ? Andre Bocquel/Samoa

Overview of the industrial past of the island – Andre Bocquel/Samoa

The Rings – a permanent artwork by Daniel Buren in the island bank

Grand Eléphant. Les Machines de l'île. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud / LVAN

The Big Elephant and The Seabed Carousel – Les Machines de l’île. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud

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Every Sunday in the summertime the open air “electronic snacking” makes people dance – Goûter électronique

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La Cantine du Voyage – live music, restaurant and meeting point for the summer festival Le voyage à Nantes – 2015


Learn more about the artistic project of the Machines – here

Every summer artists and designers are commissioned to reinvent the city – Le voyage à Nantes

Another iconic industrial building conversion in Nantes is former biscuit factory into a cultural venue – le Lieu Unique (LU)