The decision on the part of the municipal authorities of Montpellier to direct the orderly expansion of the town to the east stems from the desire to balance the city centre and integrate the banks of the river Lez into the urban fabric. “La Place du Nombre d’Or”, was the first project to be completed by RBTA in Montpellier, a construction which served as a motor force and architectonic reference for the development as a whole. The relationship with the city centre, and especially with the Polygone (a dehumanized centre with no relationship of any kind with the town), was one of the most important challenges which the team had to face.
“La Place du Nombre d’Or” is a symbolic element by virtue of the fact that it marks the beginning of the urban axis of the new district of Antigone and is the first of all the buildings that have been constructed over a period of almost twenty years. The geometrical principles of harmony, based on the Golden Number, lie behind all lines and details, from the whole to the part, following one key Renaissance principle of perfection and beauty. The rigorous structure of the Place du Nombre d’Or contrasts with the surrounding urban chaos.
Housing units are set along the plaza perimeter. The buildings are built on a paved platform, which blends in with the plaza and meets the lawns which surround the existing urban layout.
The plan of the plaza, an archetypal form in classical architecture, distributes the 288 apartment units in three semicircles, four corners and an entrance gateway to the scheme. The semicircles are made up of square 12 x 12 m modules, laid out according to the geometry of a decagon. These modules, with ground and six upper floors, have two apartments on each floor. The vertical circulation has been handled in a similar fashion to “Le Théâtre” in Marne-la-Vallée, with the emergency stairs inside a column and a triangular module containing the lift. The curve here is more closed, with the result that the vertical circulation module is situated nearer the centre of the plaza, creating an exterior effect of individual houses and, by contrast, a completely continuous interior façade. A special typology was adopted for the apartments on the corners and in the gateway building.
The façades consist of pilasters and openings composed following an order which is repeated regularly, and are topped by an overhanging cornice with a parabolic section. The frieze consists of a green planted belt which makes the transition between the façade and the sky. This strong design element, the cornice, marks the horizontal lines of composition and totally surrounds the central space. The luminosity of the pale yellow hue of the concrete underlines the play of light and shadows on the façade.
The disposition of the volumes allows two different readings: articulated individual houses on the exterior, and a continuous façade on the interior, which creates a community space. These two readings are reinforced by the use of two different scales and orders.
The plaza is open to the outside by four passages located on the angles and a large urban door, to the East of the esplanade.
The project as a whole emphasizes the geometric relationship and layout of the volumes, suggesting the image of individual houses surrounded by a green space and aligned around a square. The façades are deliberately sober; tall tree silhouettes are placed between the volumes, to emphasize this vertical rhythm.
RBTA’s experience in architectural concrete, largely developed with the execution of several projects in France, was mastered further in Antigone’s projects, even down to its details; the combination of panels was here much more integrated with regards to the aesthetic side of the project. The concrete for the facades was treated as an actual finishing material, that is, as if it were reconstituted stone.