The Caisse d’Epargne’s battlement-like structure embodies the values of certainty and safety which its original use sought to promote. February’s Brutalist Building of the Month suggests that bold forms can be combined with organic textures to create a product of significant presence but more subtle stead writes Richard Enright. Photograph by Valentin Jeck.
Edmond Lay’s 1977 design for the French bank Caisse d’Epargne displays an expressive use of forms and materials. The building’s strong lines and bold shapes are softened by its curved edges and natural stone exterior, allowing it to stand out in its surroundings without overwhelming. The design reflects the structure’s purpose by suggesting stability and security. It has often been referred to as the "Brutalist Guggenheim".
Construction of the building took place from 1974 – 1977 and was part of a shift in the Mériadeck quarter of Bordeaux from a residential area to a true business district. Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the then mayor of Bordeaux, was concerned about the area’s post-war descent. He opted to regenerate the neighbourhood as a sort of small Défence to stimulate business and exclude poverty in the city centre. However, his plan struggled to gain traction with developers and Caisse d’Epargne was notably the only major bank who agreed to set up in the district.
They called on the architects Edmond Lay, Pierre Dugravier and Pierre Layre-Cassou to come up with a design for the bank-to-be. The architects devised a structure centred around a 17-metre-high glass-roofed atrium. Offices were distributed around the central space allowing them to benefit from the natural light above. The building was awarded the Grand Prix d'Architecture in 1984 and was listed as historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture in 2014. It was vacated by Caisse d’Epargne in 2018 has since been converted into a mixed use residential, commercial, and cultural space.
The Caisse d’Epargne is featured on our Brutalist Calendar 2024 for February. Since 2019, our annual, limited-edition monthly wall calendar is a celebration of some of the most awe-inspiring and influential examples of Brutalist architecture around the world. This year's calendar features stunning photography of Brutalist architecture from Buenos Aires to Bulgaria. Sign up for the newsletter below to be informed of the release of next year's calendar.