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The transformation of Cambrai’s Docks and Warehouses offered a unique opportunity for reshaping predominantly tertiary-sector economic activity on a location offering major advantages. Standing on an important road network directly linking the area with the town center, it is nearly 15 acres of abandoned land along the Escaut canal, a location offering plenty of advantages for creating a quality urban project. It is a history-laden area redolent of the industrial past that helped shape Cambrai’s economy. Traces of past activity are visible such as the train tracks that still exist in town, the sheltered dock the facilitated water-borne merchant traffic and the ground outlines of the buildings that composed the large central market.
The planning strategy rests on these precepts by setting a certain number of urban and environmental principles, in particular by designing a building complex that highlights a «green lung» in the city center and contributes to improving Cambrai’s living environment. By locating them like a belt around the edge of the property, the buildings work on the visual perspectives towards this open, green inner area.
It then distributes the footprint of the parking lots connected with the activities in outlying pockets in order to limit their impact and nuisance levels and to use the orthogonal patterns of the old buildings to place the buildings in line with the land’s historical axes.
And lastly it deploys a set of comb- or L-shaped buildings to maximize views and project into the site’s natural framework. It also defines a contemporary volumetric and architectural strategy for enhancing the area’s renewal. In fact all the buildings have identical bases but vary in their cladding between wood, trespa and brick, a diversity that leads to promoting urban activity and echo the feeling of northern urban landscapes.
Once the Docks had shut down and all the buildings in the area been demolished, the land is at present vacant. But the sheltered port is still standing and to the southwest a brick arch that delineated the port’s opening onto the Escaut canal. The land remains in its naturally wild, green-filled state.
The first building erected – L-shaped and four stories high, built on a patterned concrete foundation – is clad in vertical wood slats. These floors are office space for public and private use. Although the building is occupied by tenants, the present economic situation is jeopardizing the site’s further development.