La Folie Divine is the first of the twelve follies to be built on brownfield sites in the city of Montpellier. The aim of the follies is to continue a tradition dating back to the eighteenth century, when local aristocrats and bourgeoisie commissioned architects to build a number of innovative homes, les Folies Montpellieraines, on the outskirts of the city. These buildings, including the castles of Flaugergues, de la Mogere and de la Mosson, are still an integral part of the city’s architectural identity.
The site of La Folie Divine is located on Ilot M2 within Les Jardins de la Lironde - an urban development area on the periphery of Montpellier planned by Christian de Portzamparc. It is designed as a nine storey, 34 m tower, accommodating 36 apartments and a small restaurant on the ground floor. The building’s small footprint minimises use of the existing site and liberates ground for a garden around the building.
The apartments are distributed along the section of the tower on one of two typical floor plates that have different curvilinear shapes. The shape of each floor is designed in such a way that the balcony of each apartment is hidden from views of those of neighbouring ones without the introduction of balcony dividing walls. Each of the two typical floor plates is divided into four corner apartments, located around a central core, with services adjacent to it. The core, party walls between apartments and some of the exterior profile of the buildings act as the structure of the building, leaving the interior of apartments free of load-bearing structure and flexible for different future internal configurations. The resulting apartments are therefore not only highly flexible, but also dual aspect, and therefore benefit from multiple views of the exterior and natural cross ventilation. This arrangement also provides the apartments with the least possible internal shared circulation space when compared to a residential slab or block, and therefore the maximum amount of privacy.
The two typical floor plates are stacked on top of one another in such a way that the balconies of each apartment are not aligned vertically with those of neighbouring ones directly above and below. This creates two types of balconies on each floor: a single height balcony which is covered by the floor above it, and a double height balcony which is covered by a floor two floors above. This reduces downward overlooking as it creates more distance between the balconies along the height of the building, as the balcony seen diagonally from above is always two floors down. In the single height balconies which are covered by the floor above them, a curtain is provided to enable the residents to use them as open balconies or enclosed loggias. The curtains also add an air of vitality and spontaneity to the apartments.
This assemblage of floors not only provides prospective residents with extremely private balconies, but it gives them choice beyond apartment sizes, including balcony size, orientation, whether they are covered or open, single or double height. The irregular curvilinear shape of the building, combined with the ability to choose their internal configuration, also provides an unusual diversity of room shapes within the building.