Playfulness has a serious purpose at a Montpellier housing development by Farshid Moussavi Architecture


Paul Phung

Farshid Moussavi Architecture’s ‘Folie Divine’ – a 36-unit housing development in Montpellier, France – draws inspiration from both French and English traditions of building in gardens. It echoes local architectural history, dating back to the eighteenth century, when aristocrats commissioned grand mansions in garden settings, and also recalls the English habit of folly-building, where playful structures of no practical purpose would be placed in landscapes to elicit pleasure and suggest wealth and taste. FMA sought an idiosyncratic character for its own ‘folie’, but this was not without practical purpose: instead, the architect was “asking how that could be used as a critical tool to generate a new possibility for the architecture of housing”.


The site is located on Îlot M2 within Les Jardins de la Lironde, an urban development area on the city’s periphery – a tranquil spot bordered by a river as well as residential neighbourhoods. FMA opted for a nine-storey tower – the maximum height permitted by the area’s masterplan – in order to achieve a compact footprint that allows the rest of the site to be used as a garden, “giving the building a folie-like setting”. This organisation also provides the apartments with views of the sea as well as the city centre in the distance, and creates dual-aspect corner apartments which benefit from natural cross-ventilation.

Though the initial brief requested five different apartment types, FMA developed an asymmetric plan that varies from floor to floor, so each of the 36 apartments is unique.

“Folie Divine defies the typical notion of residential luxury as synonymous with the use of expensive materials”, says the architect. “Instead, it redefines luxury in three ways: a variety of spatial choices beyond bedroom count to compliment one’s unique lifestyle; the flexibility to modify one’s home as and when required; and finally the freedom to enjoy both interior and exterior spaces of the home in utmost privacy”.


All apartments have curvilinear balconies that taper at each end, and therefore don’t require walls to separate neighbouring spaces, “which typically obstruct lateral views out of balconies”, suggests the architect. “To avoid overlapping views between neighbours, the balconies are strategically located with respect to one another, so that each balcony enjoys 180-degree views out but never into the neighbouring balcony”.

In addition, four different floor configurations are used, each with differing balcony locations stacked in alternating order to ensure that neighbouring balconies are two levels apart from each other. This minimises downward views from one neighbour to another, and creates the choice of two balcony types throughout the building: a single-height balcony, shaded by the level above and designed with exterior curtains for additional privacy and wind protection, and, a double-height balcony which benefits from maximum sun exposure and provides the possibility of maintaining taller house plants.


To reinforce privacy, balcony handrails are designed with double points of support, arranged along two parallel lines and offset from one another. This improves views out but minimises views in, as the double points of support generate a moiré-like effect when viewed obliquely.

Location of the structural elements within the central core, party walls and facades maximises the flexibility of apartment interiors. A low-maintenance cladding of corrugated anodised aluminium, metal panelling and glass is intended to minimise the cost burden to residents over time.

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Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Associate architect
Landscape designer
PER Ingénierie
Les Nouveaux Constructeurs