West 8 in collaboration with Boyer-Percheron-Assus and Merlin wins competition for park design and transformation of former military terrain in Montpellier, France

On the 10th of July Hélène Mandroux, Mayor of Montpellier announced that West 8 in collaboration with Montpellier architects, Boyer-Percheron-Assus and Merlin, is the winner of the urban design competition for the conversion of the former School of Infantry site (EAI) (35 ha) in the city of Montpellier. Team West 8 beat fellow competitors BIG Agency and Bau-B. West 8’s proposal emphasizes rejuvenation of the pre-existing condition to “subtly transform the site from one state to another, without upsetting the heritage” explains Michaël Delafosse, Deputy Major and urbanism delegate. The proposed redevelopment of the EAI into a new district will be presented to the public in September. Development of the neighborhood will be led by Thierry Laget from SAAM (Development Company of the city of Montpellier).

In 2010, the troops of the EAI retreated from their city base. While this created considerable economic trauma for the city, over a thousand jobs were lost, it also became a great opportunity to redesign 35 hectares of open space in an otherwise dense urban sector, located less than a mile from the historic center of Montpellier.

The City of Montpellier identified four key ideas for the development of future district:

  • creation of a 16.2 ha green lung
  • construction of approximately 4000 homes served by a new tramline (commissioning in 2017)
  • re-opening this former military fenced site
  • restructuring the Avenue de Toulouse.

Team West 8’s envisions a sustainable neighborhood (featuring traffic calming, pedestrian networks, underground parking, water management and energy efficient buildings), with diverse architecture and an environmentally enhanced park – 2,000 new trees will be planted three dramatic watermills installed.

Instead of building all of the proposed 4000 homes at once, Team West 8 proposed that the construction of only 2300-3000 homes should be phased gradually over the next 15 years. The mixed housing typologies include: collective / individual and inter-generational, with one third of social housing and a third in helped accession, says the City. Density is relatively low: “the development has more of a suburban spirit as opposed to the typical vertical density of Port Marianne”, explains Michaël Delafosse. It will feature around 30,000 m2 of shops and local services, as well a creative and cultural centre (containing a cinema, design, architecture and marketing companies from the creative sector) which will hopefully generate a thousand jobs. Notable architecture in this development includes the 7000 m2 future City of Music and the Arts building, the Graduate School of Journalism (antenna ESJ Lille) and Crous, student housing.

Opening on Avenue de Toulouse

The site opens up the Avenue de Toulouse (avenue de Toulouse) to Bugarel Street (rue Bugarel) “by re-appropriating 20 openings in the historical city wall and making them entrance points” said Michael Delafosse. It will become a very sustainable area with “buildings that produce more than they consume, strict water management, central soft mobility and biomass cogeneration being key sustainability features”, he added. Acquired in early 2012 by the City, the former EAI will soon be transformed. “Very quickly, people will forget what these three letters stand for”, commented Mayor Hélène Mandroux, who highlighted the growing importance of urban renewal developments, noting recent examples such as Saint-Roch (Paul Chemetov, railway wasteland) Restanque (industrial zone Emmanuel Nebout) and EAI (military grounds).

The Selection Process

Unlike traditional urban design competitions which rely heavily on a pre-selected jury, the Development Company of the Cityof Montpellier (SAAM) chose to incorporate an original mode of citizen consultation into their selection process.

Developed by the Res Publica agency, this approach seeks to involve all segments of the city’s population, by drawing on electoral lists. All residents were invited to the consultation phase. A personalized letter was sent to 10,500 people, who were randomly selected from the electoral lists, (addition weighting was given to people under 40, who are traditionally more difficult to mobilize). Communication was made with people who participated in the public meetings, the voluntary sector at the municipal level (beyond the neighborhood associations): environment, culture, travel etc and even involved the younger generation (from 12 to 25) through schools in the district. Thus every inhabitant of the city of Montpellier was sought to enrich the competitive dialogue given by the three competitors. Multiple debates were held to confront the three different points of view and discuss the values and aims of the presented proposals.

An Echo of the Esplanade

Adriaan Geuze, Director of West 8 and Project Manager, Maarten van de Voorde, are very enthusiastic to work on the landscaping of the Montcalm park. “The 2000 trees form a kind of ‘urban broccoli”, says Adriaan Geuze who projected his vision for the project “the goal is to provide shade for park users in all seasons, and offer different landscapes. ‘The Montcalm park makeover’ will echo the central esplanade of Montpellier and will be accessible to all. It is multifunctional: people can come here to walk, read, relax, play sports, (fitness trail), or work remotely with their laptop or tablet…”

West 8 is an award-winning international office for urban design and landscape architecture founded in 1987. Over the last 25 years West 8 has established itself as a leading practice with an international team of 70 architects, urban designers, landscape architects and industrial engineers. West 8 developed projects all over the world in places such as Copenhagen, London, Moscow, New York, Madrid, Toronto and Amsterdam. The office gained international recognition with projects such as Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam (NL), Borneo-Sporenburg in Amsterdam (NL), Chiswick Park in London (UK) and Expo ’02 in Yverdon-les-Bains (CH). Many of the projects are the result of groundbreaking entries in important international competitions. Recently won competitions include Toronto Waterfront in Toronto (CA), Governors Island in New York (USA) and Playa de Palma in Mallorca (ES).

Amongst the numerous awards received by West 8 are the Honor Award of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lifetime Achievement Award for Architecture 2011, Mondriaan Fund (formerly BKVB),  the International Urban Landscape Gold Award (IULA), the Prix de Rome, the Dutch Maaskant Award, the Bijhouwer Award, the Rosa Barba First European Landscape Prize, the Green Pin and the Veronica Rudge Green Prize for Urban Design.

For more information: Public Relations, Winnie Poon or Lydia Franken, +31 (0)10 – 485 58 01, pr@west8.com, www.west8.com