Nuage port marianne Montpellier © editions Chabot

Montpellier, the capital of design

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  • .Zaha Hadid
  • .Pierresvives
  • ."nuage"
  • .rbc
  • .Christian Lacroix
  • .design
  • .Philippe Starck
  • .Port marianne
  • .François Fontès
  • .Jean Nouvel
  • .Fuksas

For many years now Montpellier has regarded itself as a centre of architecture and design. In 1977, the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill was entrusted with the titanic realisation of the Antigone.

Inspired by the world of the ancient Greeks and inaugurated by the then President, François Mitterrand, the area remains, after almost forty years, a potent symbol of successful urban architecture and the opening chapter of a love story between the Hérault’s capital, architecture and design. 

Our tour of 'Montpellier design' starts at dusk when the lights of Port Marianne are illuminated. 

A few miles from the sea, this area has become the architectural ambassador of the capital of Hérault.

Look upwards: on both sides of avenue Raymond-Dugrand (one of the builders of the city) magnificent buildings have sprung up. Most designed by great names in architecture.

Firstly, the town hall; this ‘blue ship’ prompted journalists from the New York Times to place it, in 2012, among the 45 best things to see in the world... 

Designed by François Fontès and Jean Nouvel, the building overlooks the townscape along the river Lez. Every evening when the sun goes down it puts on a dazzling show with the last rays of sunlight reflecting off the building to emphasise the magnificent architectural work. 

We pass across the basin of Jacques-Coeur.

A strange building, which changes colour and dominates the area is just a few yards from the water that mirrors it, the ‘Nuage’ (cloud).

Designed by the French artist Philippe Starck, the building houses a restaurant and fitness centre.

This was one of the first inflatable constructions in Europe: around the concrete structure, a bubble-shaped membrane is inflated under 700 millibars of pressure.

“A polyethylene sheet one tenth of a millimeter thick, held in tension by what is creating the very breath of life, the wind and the air”, says Philippe Starck.

The Nuage must be one of the pioneering structures in this field and was extraordinarily difficult to put in place because of the advanced techniques involved.

The building, seemingly halfway between being completely transparent and translucent, stimulates some motorists passing on the main road to speak of “seeing people moving and colours stirring...”

Across from the mirror of water and its multi-coloured fountain jets, the Cloud faces the RBC Design Centre, an impressive design and contemporary furniture store.

Its interior, metallic and light, is as surprising as its outer layer, comprised of large letters and designed by Jean Nouvel, who imposed his style throughout Port-Marianne.

A few hundred yards away, on the other side of the Charpak park and featuring geometric delusions of Massimiliano Fuksas, stands the Georges Frêche school: the flowing and elegant curves of this structure, covered with thousands of small triangles, make it a resolutely singular work. 

RBC Montpellier

RBC Montpellier

Pierresvives Montpellier  © Editions Chabot

While strolling through the streets we see amazing works testifying to its rich architectural past.

The sun rises in Montpellier.

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