Sunday, May 25, 2014

Montpellier: a city of contrasts

My first impressions of this major Languedoc city were not very good, and not just because it was raining. The city was dirty; it needed a good washing and spring clean-up. The tourist information boards were filthy; the pavement was broken and filthy; there was graffiti everywhere, and a highrise Ibis hotel fronting on the main square not only looked out of place by virtue of its scale, it was dirty and just plain awful. The city's only redeeming feature seemed to be its colourful trams.
The first medical school in the world is a popular tourist site in Montpellier
But over the course of the following two days, I began to appreciate many aspects of the city….not only for its history (the first medical school in the world) and many impressive buildings; but especially for two major master-planned community developments: Antigone and Port Marianne and the city's many 'green' initiatives.
A lovely landscaped street next to Place Comedie, the major downtown square...a comedy festival was about to start just as we were leaving. Pity!
Who knew? Many French cities have their own Arc de Triomph
The inside the trams is bright and airy. I wonder if there was much discussion when the colour was chosen!

The overall site plan for Antigone, which was developed in the 80's is very formal and based on symmetry.

While I questioned the Greek theme, it is consistent...a Spanish architect was responsible for the plan
I think the original designer of this type of fountain should be required to go around the world and clean the resulting litter up. I hate them!
One of the civic buildings within the development, as viewed from our tour train
Another government building...this one the offices of the regional government.
I will be writing much more about these developments in a forthcoming Vancouver Sun Westcoast Homes column, but in the meanwhile, here are some pictures. What I find interesting about both is the very formal master-planning, especially in the case of Antigone, which is reflective of the grand master planning which was carried out in France in the 18th and 19th C. While I sure question the decision to mimic Greek architecture in the case of Antigone, I did like the overall formalism.

Port Marianne was quite different. It is still underway and will one day be a planned community for 50,000 people. It includes a variety of contemporary architectural styles, but has an overall master plan and design coordination that works very well.
This new development nicely weaves new mid-rise buildings into what might be described as sustainable landscape planning
One of my favourite buildings...both for the overall design and colour, but also for the large balconies/terraces
Someone needs to go around Europe and tell the architects that while wood looks lovely on the outside for a few months, it generally wears badly on these contemporary buildings....see last years buildings in Hamburg Exposition
What not every building is my cup of tea, the overall massing, with the constant base design is very attractive

A clever name...surprised to see the project is by Kaufman and Broad, one of America's largest developers

A very high quality treatment for new sidewalks and paved areas
I was intrigued by both the decorative concrete base, and some of the exterior this case a metal or plastic lattice type system which results in very interesting designs
In Port Marianne, I particularly liked the scale, especially of the first phases, and the design coordination, as evidenced by the continuous painted decorative concrete base. That's an idea that would work nicely in Vancouver.

Montpellier, like many French cities is becoming increasingly 'green'. In addition to the tram system, there is an extensive bike-share and car-share program. Furthermore, the City Hall not only looks very good, with 14,000 sq.ft. of photovoltaic panels, it produces much of its own energy.

While Vancouver's mayor wants our city to be the greenest in the world, it's going to take a very long time before we catch up to Montpellier, if ever!


Anonymous said...

I think it was Ricardo Bofill the architect behind Antigone,...and it is Spanish.

Just out of curiosity,
Did you feel the Antigone architectural environment lively, cold?

Michael Geller said...

Thanks Voony, You're absolutely right!

I found Antigone cold...but am told it can be very lively when market happening...and sunny weather!