Looking a little like a giant white pinecone, the design for this new high-rise apartment building in Montpellier, France, uses strategically placed balconies and shades to give residents the maximum outdoor space without blocking views or taking up too much room on the ground.
“We wanted to preserve the site as much as possible,” says Manal Rachdi, whose architecture firm worked on the project with Sou Fujimoto and Nicolas Laisné Associates. “The idea is to have, in this urban landscape, a continuity from an existing park to our site.”
Inspired by the shape of a tree, the architects used a smaller footprint for the base and “leaves” expanding outward on higher floors. “The tree is really the minimum space we can have on the site, but we have this really big extension with the leaves,” Rachdi explains. “Just as leaves in a tree are naturally arranged to get the maximum sun, we’ve mathematically arranged these balconies and cantilevers to catch and shade the sun.”
One side of the building curves inward along a street, while the opposite side, facing a river, is convex to give apartments the best views. At the base of the building, the architects have designed spaces for offices, a restaurant, a bar, and an art gallery. Everything’s built to run on local renewable energy, and the building also uses passive cooling strategies to reduce the amount of power needed.
Upstairs, each apartment has so many balconies–up to three, depending on the apartment layout a resident chooses–that a unit is made up of about half outdoor space. There’s even a balcony in the bedroom with enough room to sleep on when the weather’s warm.
“We discovered that in this city, people live outside,” Rachdi says. “So we came up with the idea to have an interior apartment but also have a big surface outside–about 30 square meters. We’re trying to end the break that is between outside and inside with the architecture of this building.”