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

L’Arbre Blanc, architecture of the 21st century

 new kind of plant takes root in the heart of the contemporary district Port Marianne ! L'Arbre Blanc, a building designed by architects Sou Fujimoto, Nicolas Laisné and Manal Rachdi, will welcome its first inhabitants in September 2018. The good news is that this ambitious architectural project will welcome two great chefs who have joined together for the biggest pleasure of our taste buds.

Charles FONTES (chef of the 1 star restaurant La Rimbaud Reserve) and Eric CELLIER (chef of the gastronomic restaurant La Maison de la Lozère) will head a brasserie on the ground floor and on the first floor of the tower, as well as a tapas bar on one of the panoramic terraces on the 17th floor.

L'arbre Blanc © L'arbre Blanc

L'arbre Blanc

Pierresvives Montpellier  © Editions Chabot

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

The sun rises in Montpellier.

The Hotel de Ville designed by Jean Nouvel and François Fontès


Landmark for the entire area, the ‘hôtel de ville’ (town hall) opened its doors on 14th November 2011. In charge, Jean Nouvel, Pritzker prize (the equivalent of the Nobel prize in architecture), along with the montpelliérain François Fontès.

Together, they designed the new town hall for the people of Montpellier both a sustainable building and an architectural prowess. More than just a building, it is a real urban work of art, built on the banks of the Lez river and conceived as the signature building of a port city as imagined by Jacques Coeur as early as 1440, and by the Mayor Pagézy at the end of the 19th century.

If today the blue glow silhouette of the Montpellier hôtel de ville is an integral part of the identity of the city, the other side of the river is also very attractive and emblematic of the state of mind that guided the design of that new ZAC Port Marianne district : a contemporary architecture in a green haven ideal for a walk, a cycle ride or simply to relax. Thus, on the one hand the hôtel de ville façade and its vast square enhance the monumental and grandiose aspect of the area and on the other hand, the spotlight is on the mediterranean vegetation and the charming buildings raised
on stilts.

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