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Approaching Demolition in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France

A demolition site in France.

Demolition, as anyone will agree, is never an end in itself. Resorting to this rather violent measure requires at the very least a serious assessment, a plan, and a method.

The diagnostic itself must investigate several domains. The urban dimension should be assessed through analyzing the features in play on-site and in the surroundings, and the technical dimension should be approached through evaluating the reasons for, and alternatives to, demolition, for example the presence of hollowed out concrete, structural maladaptation to vertical traffic, or a building's lack of adaptability to contemporary habitability standards. Most importantly, the social element should be taken into consideration when the inhabitants of a building no longer want to live there and are unable to accept the financial implications of costly renovations. Such diagnostic work should be done with a minimum of distance and a maximum amount of technical and intellectual rigor.

Then comes the project, which can vary in its nature. For example, it can make a blank slate of a neighborhood or a block. This was the approach towards urban renewal in the 70s, which led to the destruction of the Mériadeck neighborhood in Bordeaux. Or, the demolition project can be more delicate, contributing to the sustainable evolution of a neighborhood, or what is today called urban renewal. The urban renewal phenomenon is natural as far as a city can and should constantly evolve and adapt. It's from this point of view that the operations occurring on the right side of the river in Bordeaux over the past decade have been carried out. It should be noted that this kind of approach involves a great deal of humility and a great deal of attention towards the residents who live at these locations, and moreover, a lot of them never asked for any of this!

The Rive-Droite area of Bordeaux, France.

It's for this reason that the process of demolition should be conducted according to careful methods, and it should respect certain steps: if it is necessary to fix the project's guidelines, it is also necessary to allow for a certain amount of flexibility. The time of absolute certainties is over. Scheduling and new spatial organization should be conducted in an open manner before starting a dialogue in order to engage with families and the greater community, whose representation is currently not always guaranteed. Then, since the perception of change by the populations in question is particularly time-sensitive, it is indispensable to adopt measures for observation and follow-up to occur after the demolition work itself is complete.

Finally, it should always be kept in mind that a lone professional cannot achieve anything: the general contractors, contract authorities, people in political and administrative positions, and public financiers are "doomed" to work on a project together and according to a protocol of shared responsibility.

When safety and habitability are not major factors to be taken into account, does the quick, efficient, but more "violent" approach to demolition have any merit, or are more organic and humanized approaches always superior? 

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.