Montpellier City Hall

  • Montpellier, France
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It stands in the sunshine. It is familiar with and wary of the sun. But it plays an ancestral game. 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. The urbane South has built itself a town square with fountains, cafés and boutiques under canvas awnings. Between the shopfronts and the terraces, gates regularly open onto inner courtyards along passageways with iron staircases and wrought-iron railings.


It is in tune with the neighboring architecture, lying low, between the different levels of the esplanade of the park and the cobblestoned forecourt.


It is hospitable. It looks like a huge transparent door opening onto its inner light and the park.


It sports a splash of colour. Blue, like the sky, like the sea, like Montpellier’s coat of arms. The blue gently reveals subtle transparencies, while protecting the suggestion of an inner life that interests the city inhabitants.


It is wooden. Its outer skin is made out of silvery gray wood, with a hint of gold. This wood has already absorbed the sun and thus protected itself… Inside, the essence is smoother, warm, midway between honey and caramel.


It is woven out of pieces of wood, orthogonal or parallel lines, in which chance seems to challenge logic. In the northwest, thin slats offer a striated view of the city. In the east and west, projectable shutters with adjustable louvers create a constantly changing panorama. In the south, horizontal brisesoleils shield the windows overlooking the park and into the distance. Four different façades are united by rhythm and materials. Two-dimensional weaving clads either horizontal and vertical planes.


It is filled with an inner light, an intriguing vibration sensed from the entrance. This light is imprinted on the ceilings. In public buildings, ceilings reveal the nature of the institution. Here, in the public lobby, they are bright silver, adorned with the medallion profiles of Jacques Cœur or Cambacérès. Written on the walls of the Council Chamber, set against a background of different blues, are the fundamental principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. In the public reception room, a crowd of Montpellier citizens look down from the walls.


It is arranged around a patio between water and sky. All its occupants will have a view of the square, or of the park, or of the river, or even of the patio and the reflections of the water on the silvery walls and the movable, perforated awnings that change the geometry of the blue sky. Living here means being aware of the light, the climate. Living here means seeing the trees in the south; geographical, urban and natural skylines.


Its guests will have terraces to explore. The spacious public reception rooms will extend outside and offer views of the River Lez. Brides and grooms will cross the park and walk along a terrace-cum-loggia amidst vegetation and water before entering the Marriage Ceremony Room with opal trelliswork that opens onto terraces filled with rhododendrons and azaleas…


It shows everyone its grand staircase that links these summer reception rooms, a staircase accompanied by panoramic elevators offering a view of Port Marianne. These terraces and staircases hide behind meshes of blue that leave imprints on the landscape and filter the sunlight.


It is organized in such a way as to encourage relations with the public. Nothing is very far away. Everyone knows where he or she is. Only 20 meters or so and two paths separate the elected councillors in the east and the municipal offices in the west… It is a large building that seeks to reduce distances, facilitate contact between people…


It is an urban interior, a reinterpretation of the thousands of reasons why people live together, go and visit or entertain each other: 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.



Jean Nouvel