There are a lot of weird-looking architectural renderings on the internet, and most of them never get built — so it’s kind of fun when some of those proposals end up existing in the real world. L’Arbre Blanc Tower isn’t particularly outlandish, but it’s certainly unusual, and now that it’s complete, it serves as an interesting example of how digital concepts translate to three-dimensional structures.

A view of L’Arbre Blanc Tower from the nearby Lez River.

Its name means “The White Tree,” and it’s easy to see why, though the result ends up looking more like a spiny cactus than branches sprouting from a narrow trunk. Sou Fujimoto Architects collaborated with Nicolas Laisné Associés, Dmitri Roussel/DREAM, and Manal Rachdi Oxo Architects to produce this mixed-use multifamily project for Montpellier, France. Its defining feature is clearly the many cantilevered balconies of varying lengths that protrude from its facade in all directions.

A few of the cantilevered balconies that make up the facade of L’Arbre Blanc Tower.
A few of the cantilevered balconies that make up the facade of L’Arbre Blanc Tower.

Winner of the 2013 “Folie Richter” competition by the Montpellier city council, which sought a blueprint for a beacon tower to enrich the city’s architectural heritage, the 17-floor L’Arbre Blanc demonstrates a novel way to give all of the inhabitants of an apartment tower access to the outdoors and gorgeous views of the city. On the ground floor is a glass-walled space full of shops and cafés, while the top floor contains a bar that’s open to the public and a common area for residents, so even those who live on the bottom floor can enjoy panoramic vistas.

The balconies act like sun shades, helping to cool the building throughout the day. The architects compare them to “leaves that fold out in search of sunlight… forming a protective veil for the facade.” In offering all of these outdoor spaces as well as access to the rooftop, they hoped to avoid the sort of “inaccessible tower syndrome” often seen in urban high-rise projects. A landscaped park at the ground level extends to the banks of the Lez River.

A few of the cantilevered balconies that make up the facade of L’Arbre Blanc Tower.
A few of the cantilevered balconies that make up the facade of L’Arbre Blanc Tower.
A few of the cantilevered balconies that make up the facade of L’Arbre Blanc Tower.

Unique, modular interior spaces are one of the hallmarks of the tower’s apartments, as the architects imagine a future in which freedom of choice becomes more important than ever when it comes to housing.

“The many balconies and pergolas really do promote outdoor living and enable a new type of relationship between residents,” say the architects. “Each apartment boasts an outdoor space of at least seven square meters (the largest is 35 square meters), with multiple levels of privacy and layout options; residents of the duplex apartments can move from one balcony to the other. So that all apartments have pleasing views, the architects sculpted the blueprint with a series of spatial experiments using physical 3D models.”

“The many technical innovations of L’Arbre Blanc include the terraces, whose cantilevers, which are up to 7.5 meters long, constitute a world first. These exceptional outside spaces are fully-fledged living rooms, which are connected to the dwellings in such a way as to allow residents to live inside and outside, a luxury for a city bathed in the sunshine 80 percent of the year!”

A view of L’Arbre Blanc Tower from the nearby Lez River.

The architects also describe the tower as a cross-cultural endeavor and an interchange between two generations of architects. World-renowned Japanese firm Sou Fujimoto offers its prestige and expertise to youthful French architects while also bringing some of its own cultural aesthetics to the project.