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Montpellier's symbol of Progress

Kelly Salance

 
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A quick walk from our Montpellier Zendesk office, across the Pont Jean Zuccarelli, the short bridge that arches over the city’s winding River Lez, stands an angular structure of azure glass and metal—the Town Hall—that conjures thoughts of Montpellier’s progress while mimicking the relentless movement of the burbling waters at its base.

Designed by architect Jean Nouvel (who designed adventurous buildings such as the Palace of Culture and Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland; the Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain; and the Louvre Abu Dhabi) and Montpellier’s own François Fontès, the Town Hall’s parallelepiped—in other words, a three-dimensional parallelogram—dimensions reflect the Port Marianne district’s steady expansion over the past half century.

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Inaugurated in November 2011 by former Mayor Helen Mandroux, the €130 million building was constructed over a four-year period by Bec Construction and Castel & Fromaget (Fayat Group) to serve as a social hub for Montpellier’s citizens, where they could conduct business, throw weddings, or just take in the beauty of their city.

The structure’s mesmerizing design has not gone unnoticed. “Inspiration for the unique form came from the previous town hall, the Hotel de Région, which was loosely based on the Arc de Triumph,” wrote Benjamin Blankenbehler of Architecture Revived in 2015. “The Regional Hall attempted to digitize the classic Arc de Triumph icon into a gridded modern object, and this was pushed further by Nouvel, resulting in a profound and complex structure.”

Blankenbehler saw the Town Hall as setting a new standard for modern architecture. “Subtle shifts of color from green to blue create a striking gradient, punctuated by serrated, translucent, and reflective materials,” he wrote. “Voids of gaping spaces render a three-dimensional maze. The lighting could have come straight out of the movie Tron, and oversized murals adorn some ceilings.”

For Nouvel, he sees the building as a portal for both the river and the people of Montpellier. “It stands in the sunshine. It is familiar with and wary of the sun, but it plays an ancestral game,” said Nouvel in a statement on his website. “Shadows, reflections, views through the shutters. . .it has taken up residence along the River Lez. It overlooks it and invites it inside, too. It welcomes the river, lets it in, as a guarantee of freshness and vibrant light. It lives on the edge of a large park and the city, besieged by trees. The cobblestones from the square slip right inside the lobby and down to the water.”

When designing the building, Nouvel decided that it needed to offer changing views of the city (which it’s projectable shutters with adjustable louvers achieve nicely). “It is an urban interior, a reinterpretation of the thousands of reasons why people live together, go and visit, or entertain each other,” Nouvel said. “With its trees, gardens, terraces, water, freshness, shadows, light, angles of view, filters, images, and interaction, it seeks to be hospitable and optimistic, aware that its role is to invite all Montpellier residents inside.”