Wave around the world 

A project conceived and produced by BNP Paribas

Darwin Eco-Système

A hothouse of eco-companies dedicated to economic cooperation and ecological transition

Project initiated in 2007 at Bordeaux

Located among the warehouses of a former military barracks in Bordeaux, DARWIN is an alternative space shared by 100 companies and 30 associations united around common goals: the reduction of their companies’ environmental footprints, creating new economic synergies and promoting urban cultures.

The coworking space

The coworking space

The renovated building where Darwin is based

The renovated building where Darwin is based

Skate ramp installed in one of the large halls on the formerly derelict site

Skate ramp installed in one of the large halls on the formerly derelict site

Alain Juppé, the Mayor of Bordeaux

Alain Juppé, the Mayor of Bordeaux

« If we’d been reasonable, we probably wouldn’t have done it ! »

History of the project

The idea was launched in 2007 with the aim of creating “a high value-added eco-friendly space for creation”, where cultural associations and eco-innovative companies could meet.

In this collective space, the project leaders’ goal is to ensure that activities are driven by three key objectives:

  • economic cooperation between the occupants of the space
  • effective activation of the ecological transition of the activities
  • support for social, environmental, athletic and cultural alternatives in the city

The space was identified in 2009 in a community proposal (CUB and the Bordeaux city hall): it was a one-hectare former military installation that was acquired by the Evolution group in late 2009. The latter began an environmentally-focused renovation of the site, enabling the first occupants to move in at the end of 2012.

The tenants include consulting, communication and strategic marketing firms focusing on sustainable development, research agencies working in the marine energy and phyto-purification fields, lawyers, architects, landscapers, and companies focusing on waste management, scenography, events management and new technology. There’s even a grocery-cum-restaurant, an urban farm, a bike polo field, a BMX track, and an artists’ residence!

With an open space design, the spaces facilitate the creation of synergies and the pooling of certain equipment and facilities (printers, kitchens, meeting rooms, concierge service, etc.). Frugality, proximity, kindness, openness, exemplary behaviour, enjoyment and economy are among the watchwords enshrined in the charter on high-quality use signed by the members. Around Darwin, on the recovered land, community-focused efforts are emerging that are among the elements that will contribute to the design of the town of the future, some of which will be supported by Darwin’s endowment fund.

130
Organisations (companies and associations)
400
Jobs in the green and creative economy
3
Hectares of responsible and/or alternative activities
« It’s a utopia that we brought about through a lot of effort and innovation, some of which was not altogether above board  »

Interview with Jean-Marc Gancille

Putting together a project like this isn’t a simple task. What are the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?

I think the most complicated part was coordinating multiple players, with a lot of cultural resistance to the rationale for change, particularly in the public sphere. The credibility and legitimacy of what we were trying to achieve have been difficult to establish. We’re contributing to the life of the city in an innovative way, and the elected officials haven’t always understood us. Fortunately, today that’s behind us, proof that it wasn’t insurmountable even though it took a lot of work. Besides that, it’s difficult to manage a building site that includes the renovation of a historic building and incorporates significant ecological requirements, but that’s also part and parcel of the constraints that face every entrepreneurial endeavour!

What makes you happiest now that your efforts have met with success?

Three things make me really happy: the first are the three fundamental goals that we were able to achieve. Economic collaboration between the different organisations really has happened, and in terms of ecological transition, the progress report after our first year-and-a-half of operations is very satisfying: we use clean energy, the renovated buildings have an energy impact that is less than 70% of an equivalent new building, we have created a recycling centre, a comprehensive waste management system and more. The collective enthusiasm and energy evident on the part of the associations is also exceptional. Those involved in the projects can identify with our approach, and Darwin acts like a magnet in the area. While there’s still room for improvement, we’ve already seen good results and we’ve achieved our goals.

You certainly won’t stop here. What projects are in development?

We’re currently working on setting up the Magasins Généreux (Generous Stores), a new cluster of buildings that we’d like to take over and renovate. This would allow us to innovate even further by installing a youth hostel, workshops, cultural centre, shared kitchens, and so on, in a total area of some 12-14,000 square meters, with a sort of mini eco-neighbourhood incorporating a multitude of unique features. Eventually, we would also like to develop a hotel with a wellness centre.

Anne-Sophie Novel

« Antigrowth is our future. It remains for us to find the way to get there. Darwin is an attempt, however imperfect and schizophrenic it may be. »

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