The plans-reliefs project was initiated around 2007 by Philippe Prévôt, who is in charge of “patrimoine historique” (heritage sites) at Bordeaux Office de Tourisme, as well as being a renowned author of articles and books about the city’s lesser-known stories. Prévôt had been inspired by a 3-D map in Florence, Italy, and thought his friend François Didier would be the right man for the job, as the sculptor had already produced scale models of towns in the past. The idea soon gained the support of the city council who would go on to commission the works in partnership with the Office de Tourisme.
|François Didier with one of the preliminary models of Porte Cailhau.|
The accessibility issue was an important one: part of the raison d’être of the maps was to provide visually-impaired or physically-disabled visitors with a feel of the sights which surround them. To obtain the best possible results, François Didier therefore worked in close conjunction with representatives of GIPHP (Groupement pour l'Insertion des Personnes Handicapées Physiques) and UNADEV (Union Nationale des Aveugles et déficients Visuels) throughout the conception phase.
|The Pey-Berland plan-relief on Place Jean-Moulin, including a fine view of Fort du Hâ (bottom right). Note the small spheres used to avoid sharp points at the top of the cathedral spires and Tour Pey-Berland (top left).|
Work was carried out first on the Pey-Berland district map, followed by Place de la Comédie and Place du Palais: “The various monuments were reproduced with the use of maps, plans and the expert input of authoritative local historian Robert Coustet, but I refrained from using Google imaging which actually provides an inaccurate and distorted view of reality.”
First François Didier drew pictures of the monuments, then he went on to produce the wax models. One of the high points came at this stage when a visually-impaired person from Bordeaux was invited to touch the miniature monuments and correctly identified each one, despite having never seen them! François describes the event as “both astonishing and extremely moving”.
|The Place de la Comédie plan-relief. Note the braille panels and a nice aerial view of Eglise Notre-Dame and Cour Mably (top right).|
Once the bronze elements had been produced, François Didier’s work was still not complete as he spent around 300 hours fine-tuning the various pieces with a chisel! The patina was then applied by the foundry’s François Michel who used a process of advance oxidation aimed at durably protecting the bronze.
|The Place du Palais plan-relief is the only one to feature a "you are here" figurine (visible bottom left). The close-up shots here show Place du Parlement and Place Camille-Jullian. Yes, it was a rainy day.|
Since then, there have been two notable spin-offs. Firstly, since 2011 two similar plans-reliefs have been on display on the central square in Bages, a tiny hamlet just outside Pauillac which has been given a new lease of life in recent years under the impetus of Jean-Michel Cazes, the dynamic owner of Château Lynch Bages. The first map immortalises Bages as it was when Cazes was growing up there in the 1950s, while the other provides a wider bird’s eye view of the Pauillac wine-growing area.
|The two plans-reliefs on the village square in Bages. The sun had finally come out the day I was there!|
Perhaps the best showcase for François Didier’s work though is his very own Jardin de Casaque in the village of Lugos, 56 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux. This is where the 63-year-old Normandy-born artist runs courses in sculpture for students of all levels, and carefully tends to the magnificent gardens which feature a number of his own creations: “The gardens are very much a joint project over the past 25 years with my wife Monique and the landscape gardener André Guéraux, who conceived the layout and incorporated lots of rare trees.”