Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto has designed a compelling plan for a mixed-use tower in the south of France, based on the structure of a tree. Fujimoto’s 17-story structure, called the White Tree, is curved to offer the best views of the surrounding landscape—both to its own inhabitants and those of its neighbors, neither of whom want their sightline blocked. Balconies stretch chaotically out from the building like leaves growing toward the sun.
The design was chosen by the city of Montpellier, France, in a competition for an ongoing architectural initiative called the 21st-Century Folies. In the 18th century, folies were luxurious country manors built by the city’s elite. These homes were surrounded by fabulous gardens and, according to the Montpellier Tourist Office, the name comes from the French word for leaf, "feuille." Now, the city of Montpellier is remaking folies for the modern era, calling for 12 "boldly modern" buildings to redefine the city’s identity.
Fujimoto’s riverside tower, estimated to open around 2017, will house a penthouse bar, a ground-floor restaurant, art gallery, and offices in addition to apartments. The wide-open, expansive balconies are meant to encourage residents to step out into the sun.
The apartments will not have set floor plans. Rather, before moving in, future residents will select from a series of modular interior spaces, in what the architects call "free-choice architecture," where they can choose their own floorplan and optional features. Despite the luxury treatment, the architects’ project brief describes a community that isn’t exclusive, but appeals to everyone visiting and living in Montpellier with its public spaces and its outstretched facade.
Whether it will serve as a Montpellier cultural magnet as planned remains to be seen, but it certainly will fit in with the city's "boldly modern" agenda wonderfully.
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