Poitiers Cœur d’Agglomération

Poitiers Town Council launched a call for tenders from multi‐skilled teams to help it strengthen its image as a regional capital. It is a medium‐sized town (pop. 90,0000) looking to increase its attractiveness and emphasize its central location. The town centre is built on a plateau hemmed in by the deep Clain Valley. Poitiers’ main features are its medieval network of winding, sloping streets and its outstanding architecture. Its tradition of creating private gardens behind groups of houses makes them neither accessible nor visible from public areas, giving the town a very mineral appearance.

A range of conflicting uses has developed over the last decades, with increased congestion of land and public space tending to conceal the architectural quality of the urban fabric and leaving little room for pedestrians. In 2009, our team was selected as the result of a methodology tender focussing attention on small and large‐scale use of the town. The unusual procedure was based on the Town Council’s desire primarily to select a team and a project partner rather than merely create a “fine” image. The team’s work, including prospection and project management, was conducted on three levels:
‐ an overall, prospective view of the town on a territorial level (reference grid) prior to the project management studies used to define an operational perimeter, ‐ project management for the layout of public areas in the town centre (33,000 sq. metres, XXX euros),
‐ a development charter for 250 hectares of the “plateau” as an operational tool for the Council’s technical departments.

Aim of intervention

The aim of the redesign of the town centre is to:
‐ Make the town centre attractive on a regional scale,
‐ Enhance the architectural heritage,
‐ Make the town centre accessible to all,
‐ Integrate greenery to meet the needs resulting from climate change,
‐ Increase understanding of the layout of private gardens behind groups of dwellings.

Description of intervention

Traffic calming within the town centre was the first, fundamental element before the areas could be redesigned on a territorial level (reference grid). Overall changes to traffic flow were based on the following:
‐ a pedestrian precinct accessible to all (1,500 metres), linking the town’s two main parks to the North and South and interconnecting all the main urban routes,
‐ a new traffic plan structured by the use of ring roads and circular routes serving public car parks to free the pedestrian precinct of cars,
‐ the introduction of an enhanced public transport service (3 routes for buses with a high level of service)

The layout of the corresponding public areas was based on:
‐ A 19th‐century East/West route linking the Town Hall and Prefecture along the crest of the
plateau. (cf. panel 2: the main route),
‐ A network of mediaeval streets and small adjacent squares
Once freed from cars, the developments will have a chromatic palette that has purposefully been simplified, to highlight the town’s superb architecture. A single building material, light‐coloured Comblanchien limestone, has been selected to provide consistency with existing buildings. Moreover, it meets sustainable development concerns (albedo of building materials).

This has also simplified understanding of open spaces, integrating them modestly into the town’s historic fabric. Total accessibility of open spaces for the elderly or disabled has been introduced by removing any kerbs and paying particular attention to levelling the overall surface. The peaceful austerity of the limestone slabs on Place Leclerc can be seen along the entire length of the historic thoroughfare culminating in the wonderful Place Aristide Briand at the eastern end. In doing so, it reveals the traditional urban structure of Poitiers’ original façades. The “braided” layout of the pavers reflects the winding mediaeval streets and enhances each small square (Square de la République, Place Carnot).

The planting of saplings with light‐coloured foliage (sophora, locust tree) or trees from more southerly areas on the squares (hackberries) add structure and airiness to urban spaces. Beyond the historic thoroughfare and the Town Hall is a reminder of the diversity of plant life in the private gardens – the Puygareau Garden, opening wide onto the urban environment. The changes in layout then give way to an architectural, urban landscape and areas with a multitude of uses.

Evaluation

Just eight months after completion of the work on Place Leclerc at the very heart of the urban landscape, and despite the fact that work is still in progress on its periphery, the square already seems to have become part of the collective psyche. It is seen as an area of freedom, a special area which the townspeople feel belongs to them. Cleared of any obstacle, the square is now used for spontaneous and “official” events. The speed with which the square has been accepted was helped by concerted discussions in the early stages of the project and during its completion (there were some 65 public meetings). Also its governance is consistent and structured, based on unified project management. This “empty space” of almost 10,000 sq. metres in the town centre initially raised doubts because it was so different to the excessive clutter of amenities and design features that are characteristic of some modern public areas, but it has now won everybody over and become accepted.

The “Heart of the District” project (“Coeur d’Agglo”) constitutes the final stage in a fairly sustained urban development of the town’s squares that began more than fifteen years ago. The public area charter, which was drafted at the same time as the “Heart of the District” development project, proposes to extend the same quality of open space and public use by increasing the number of “micro‐locations” in the various nooks and crannies or wider sections of streets and alleys, creating spaces akin to the tiny Italian squares: with flat ground, a beautiful tree and a few benches, they counterbalance the everyday city streets and help to create an ambiance reflecting a town in which life is pleasurable. Today, two‐thirds of the work has been completed and delivered. The project is programmed for completion by 2013.

Landscape Architect: Ilex Paysages & Urbanisme
Project name: Poitiers Cœur d’Agglomération
Project’s address: Poitiers (86) FRANCE
Participating offices and function: Ilex [Paysages urbanisme], MA Studio –lighting / Atelier Lion (mandataire) – Architect / A2i – engineering / Terao
Completion: 2013
Client: Ville de Poitiers
Area: 3,3 ha
Photographer: E.Saillet
Text: Ilex