The unique shape of “L’Arbre Blanc” takes its inspiration from nature.
Usually high-rise buildings are as separate, in people’s minds, from nature as possible. The architecture firm Sou Fujimoto aims to change all that with an amazing new high-rise project in the Port Marianne district of Montpellier, France that evokes a tree trunk. The name of the project, fittingly, is L’Arbre Blanc (“white tree”) and it is a part of a series of 12 new buildings that also includes a rippling apartment block designed by Farshid Moussavi.
The series, which is called ‘architectural follies,’ is meant to evoke the 18th-century chateaux built by wealthy merchants around Montpellier. “We wanted to preserve the site as much as possible,” Manal Rachdi, whose architecture firm worked on the project with Sou Fujimoto and Nicolas Laisné Associates, told Fast Company. “The idea is to have, in this urban landscape, a continuity from an existing park to our site.”
In an innovative move that could provide inspiration to developers strapped for space, the Arbre Blanc has 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 explained. “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.”
As a result, there will be no shortage of sunlight for every occupant of this 120-unit building, and residents will be able to carry on Montpellier’s tradition of outdoor living according to their lifestyles and daily schedules; apartments facing in different directions will be targeted at people who have different lifestyles and can make time to catch some rays at different times of the day. Importantly, the Arbre Blanc is also designed so that residents’ balconies do not block each other’s views.
The mixed-use Arbre Blanc stands between the older and the newly developed parts of the city, and it also integrates Sou Fujimoto’s philosophy of finding an in-between space between nature and development (learn more in this video). Hopefully the blurring of the notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ as is already common in Montpellier’s culture, can help the new tower live in harmony with its surroundings.