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Wine, Architecture, and Reaching for Grandeur

There has long been an intimate relationship between wine and architecture. It no doubt began with form following function. Because winemaking and the elevage of its product requires a certain modicum of space, and that space must inherently achieve some environmental requirements, the enterprising souls, many of which were monks of one order or another, sought to house their works well, with barrel vaults and thick stone walls, with sculpted caves and cavernous barns.

Later, when wine became the source of riches, or even an accessory to a fortune, those who made, or more correctly: had wine made for them, raised many a palatial form to both house and celebrate their bottled treasure.

Modern winemaking operations at larger volumes require a significant amount of space (and money), that when mixed with either artistic bent or ego providing a ripe opportunity for the employment of some of the world's best architects. Santiago Calatrava, IM Pei, Zaha Hadid, Michael Graves, Frank Gehry and many more have plied their craft at the behest of winery owners who want their facilities to make as big a statement as their wines.

At this point, grand architecture is quite trendy in the wine world and in many circles. It's no wonder then, that wine regions with a little money to spend are thinking about combining the spectacle of architecture with the allure of a rich wine experience.

This, of course, is a fantastic idea, provided that you get two things right: the wine experience has to be good, and the architecture has to be interesting.

I was reminded of these two important criteria when I saw the images for what Bordeaux is billing as "their Guggenheim:" a new wine center that, according to Decanter Magazine, the Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé, called 'a necessary tool for structuring an entire economy' whatever the hell that means.


Described as "spectacular," "sensual," and "in harmony" with its riverside surroundings, the building struck me in an altogether different way.

My first thought: whose idea was it to make a building that looks like a colon?

You be the judge:


Now I'm no architecture critic, but unless this is some sort of bizarre tip of the hat to the slightly more obscure health benefits of wine, I'm not sure what these folks were thinking. Setting aside the intestinal reference, a number of other, equally unpleasant likenesses spring to mind: millipede, worm, even coral snake. None really what I want to be reminded of before stepping inside to have a glass of (expensive) red wine.

Am I wrong?

Comments (9)

John wrote:
05.28.11 at 11:37 PM

now I really wonder what the appendix does

Alexandra Cretiu-Galdau wrote:
05.30.11 at 12:50 AM

No, Alder, you are not wrong! :-)
I am not from Bordeaux, but I live in a village on the right bank, and I am equally unimpressed by this, as, I would hope, are many of the other inhabitants. France is yet again a place of paradox...I guess the good part about it is that for those who have never been to St. Emilion, Montagne, and the rest of the breathtaking places in the appellations, to see them and the century-old chais will be a wonderful surprise after having visited the "colonesque" wine center in Bdx! P.S. Congrats for the award! Well, well deserved!

Renie Steves wrote:
05.30.11 at 7:07 AM

Alder, whose watch was this designed under? Now I know for sure that I am a retro girl! Renie

C.R. wrote:
05.30.11 at 1:32 PM

Positively awful design!

Doug Wilder wrote:
05.31.11 at 4:47 PM

I feel that there is enough room in the world for liking or disliking just about anything, be it wine, or architecture. As someone who admires inspired examples of both, I'm curious to learn more about the structure - what is the material, is it green certified? It does have an interesting shape, but guts don't come to mind first for me. It looks like some amorphous spun sugar confection. I would imagine it is quite spacious inside. Thanks for sharing :)

Karen S. in Michigan wrote:
06.01.11 at 5:19 AM

OMGosh....it's awful.

Karl Sherwood-Coombs wrote:
06.01.11 at 9:50 AM

Thank you for your great insight and pointing out the intestinal fortitude of this grandmal design. As an architect myself (having designed several wineries in the U.S., I would love to see the sponsor's program used by the design team...I will reserve any more judgement after I study this in more detail.

Steve wrote:
06.01.11 at 9:59 AM

Let's all just take some time to digest this before deciding whether we like it or not.

06.17.11 at 9:06 AM

Alder: weighing in a little late here, but you are not wrong--it does almost writhe, like innards. Verging on phallic, too (maybe that's not so surprising). Love your site....b.e.

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