MONTPELLIER, France — “It looks like a toothbrush. It’s quite strange,” said the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. He was speaking about his first project in France, a mixed-use residential tower in Montpellier where, thanks to 300 days of sunshine annually, outdoor living is part of the lifestyle.

Inspired by a tree, L’Arbre Blanc, or the White Tree, features a facade bristling with cantilevered pergolas and balconies up to nearly 25 feet , or 7.5 meters, long.

“When we understood the basic conditions of the lifestyle,” Mr. Fujimoto said, “we understood outdoor terraces are simply a must.”

The unusually shaped tower, with 113 apartments, a restaurant, an art gallery and a rooftop bar, won a competition sponsored by Montpellier’s City Council in 2013. The competition required a team of a young architect and a more experienced one.

“We thought that it would be very interesting to have a vision with three cultures: French, Mediterranean and Japanese,” said the Paris-based architect Nicolas Laisné. Mr. Laisné, along with his then-associate Dimitri Roussel, and Manal Rachdi of OXO Architectes, invited Mr. Fujimoto to be part of the team.

“Our choice to contact Sou Fujimoto was unanimous,” said Mr. Rachdi, whose firm is also based in Paris. “We like the lightness of his architecture, and we share a similar architectural approach.” All three architects are inspired by nature.

The 17-story tower today is nearly identical to the one the team conceived during a week spent holed up in Mr. Fujimoto’s Tokyo office after he accepted their invitation (Mr. Fujimoto also has a Paris office).

“During a trip to the south of France with my wife I realized what a wonderful place it is — the climate, the lifestyle, the light,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “So creating a project there was one of the dreams. So I was really happy when I received the invitation.”

From the start, the team planned to design a high-rise that was more open than the typically closed-off tower block.

Focusing on public space, the architects extended a landscaped park along the Lez River on the building’s west side. (”There are no fences,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “Everybody can walk through the site.”) They incorporated a restaurant and art gallery on the lower levels and a rooftop bar where a private common space for residents allows even those living in lower-level units to enjoy the panoramic view of the city and the sea. “It’s an extension of the values of the place,” Mr. Fujimoto said.

Personal balconies offer each resident from 75 to 375 square feet of outdoor space with a view; duplexes have two adjoining balconies.

Together with the pergola-like shades, the balconies offer protection for the facade, providing both shading and helping to break up winds.

“The project has invented a new concept of Mediterranean bioclimatic architecture,” Mr. Laisné said. He said current bioclimatic standards in Europe are adapted to the northern regions. “They ask to make a very airtight building with few balconies and few windows. In Montpellier, buildings need big balconies to live outside and to protect the facades from the sun. And it is good to open the windows most of the time.”

What came unexpectedly from the cantilevered design was the potential for a unique relationship between residents.

“You can see many different balconies of your neighbors when standing outside,” Mr. Fujimoto said “This recreates the feelings of neighborhood and relationship, but at the same time there are proper distances to allow for personal space.”

Image

CreditDavid Vintiner

Residents can choose to connect or maintain privacy. This is not possible in a normal high-rise,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “At the very beginning we were not intending these things; we realized we are touching on fundamental values.”

Opened in May, L’Arbre Blanc is fully occupied. The majority of its residents are local.

“The commercial launch was first done in Montpellier,” said Cyrill Meynadier, founder of Opalia, the project’s founding real estate developer among four associate promoters.

They had apprehensions about sales, “given that the project’s architectural extravagance was far from the usual standards of real estate housing development,” Mr. Meynadier said, but he added, “It was an immediate success.”

With the budget for the building coming in at $22.5 million before taxes, the average price per square meter of living space was $5,700, or roughly $530 per square foot. (The balconies were not counted as living space.) Half the units are owner-occupied. Thirty percent of the buyers are investors renting to young couples from the region, while 20 percent are second homeowners who, Mr. Meynadier said, “understood the artistic dimension of this architectural masterpiece.”

“On the riverside there is shadow in the morning, in the afternoon the light changes,” Mr. Fujimoto said. “The building looks different from different perspectives and at different times of day.”

“Every time I design, I am thinking about this,” he added. “How to create a diverse experience for people. A building that changes moment by moment. If it does that, people don’t get bored.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)