In 2013, Montpellier city council launched the “Folie Richter” competition. It sought to identify a blueprint for a beacon tower to enrich the city’s architectural heritage. The RFP stressed the desire for a bold project that had to fit into its environment and include shops and homes. The brief was clear: city hall wanted a team made up of a young architect working with an experienced colleague.
Manal Rachdi and Nicolas Laisné, who run their own practices, decided to call on the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. To get the project off the ground, Manal Rachdi, Nicolas Laisné and his young partner Dimitri Roussel flew to Tokyo in summer 2013. For five days, they shut themselves away in Fujimoto’s studio for intensive workshop sessions. To reinvent the tower, the architects focused on the human dimension, creating public spaces at the bottom and top of the building: the ground floor is a glass-walled space opening out onto the street, while on the roof there is a bar open to the public and a common area for residents, so that even the owners of first-floor apartments can enjoy the view.
Name: L’Arbre Blanc (The White Tree)
Location: Montpellier, France
Architects: Sou Fujimoto Architects, Nicolas Laisné Associés, Manal Rachdi Oxo Architects
Size: 110,061 sq ft
AN ARCHITECTURAL FEAT THAT PRMOTES OUTDOOR LIVING
But what sets the project apart is its design. The three architectural practices devised a building inspired by a tree, with balconies that branch off the trunk and shades that sprout out of and protect its façade. The attention paid to its setting, and to local lifestyles, guided the architects throughout the design phase. The many balconies and pergolas really do promote outdoor living and enable a new type of relationship between residents. Each apartment boasts an outdoor space of at least 7m2 (the largest is 35m2), with multiple levels of privacy and layout options; residents of the duplex apartments can move from one balcony to the other. So that all apartments have pleasing views, the architects sculpted the blueprint with a series of spatial experiments using physical 3D models.
The many technical innovations of L’Arbre Blanc include the terraces, whose cantilevers, which are up to 7.5 metre-long, constitute a world first. These exceptional outside spaces are fully-fledged living rooms which are connected to the dwellings in such a way as to allow residents to live inside and outside, a luxury for a city bathed in sunshine 80% of the year!
CLIMATIC ADAPTABILITY BUILT INTO THE ARCHITECTURE
The proportions of the balconies emphasise this aim to embrace the outdoors, as do the leaves that fold out in search of the sunlight. These generous balconies are also a response to the need for environmental solutions closely tailored to the “ecology of the south”.
Forming an effective protective veil for the façade, they provide the necessary shade and break up skew winds to help air circulate more harmoniously.
The three architectural practices devised a building inspired by a tree, with balconies that branch off the trunk and shades that sprout out of and protect its façade.
A PRIVATE TOWER WITH A GENEROUS ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE CITY AND ITS PEOPLE
The architects adopted a new take on tower living for this mixeduse development. To cure inaccessible tower syndrome, from the earliest discussions there was a real focus on public space, including extending a landscaped park along the Lez River and opening the tower up to the public.
The seventeen-storey building is a full participant in city life, aiming first and foremost to be accessible to all the people of Montpellier, with an art gallery on the ground floor and a rooftop bar linked to a panoramic garden. By allowing people to take physical ownership of the tower, it will become an object of pride for the people of Montpellier, and a tourist attraction.
Team@ L’Arbre Blanc Residential Tower
Sou Fujimoto is a Japanese architect. Born in Hokkaido in 1971, he graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1994, and established his own office, Sou Fujimoto Architects, in 2000. Fujimoto is known for delicate light structures and permeable enclosures.
Nicolas Laisné: Passionate about plastic art and history, there is no doubt that a childhood spent in a house judiciously rehabilitated by an architect ended up arousing an appetite for design and contextualisation for Nicolas Laisné. Through his firm, Nicolas Laisné Associates, he works on ecological building and develops a strong sensitivity for environmental issues and intelligent natural solutions.
Manal Rachdi : As far back as he can remember, Manal Rachdi has dreamed of one day living in a forest, with a library and a few walls. All of his projects carried out through OXO Architects incorporate large areas of nature - terraces, interior forests, green walls- to (re) introduce a little countryside in the cities.
Dimitri Roussel: DREAM is the architectural practice founded by Dimitri Roussel in 2018. The firm is internationally recognised for hedonistic and innovativeoutputs. DREAM places human spirit at the heart of its projects.