A rendering of the proposed Arbre Blanc to be located in Montpellier, France

Unusual, original, and out of the ordinary, follies have existed since the seventeenth century (and even before). They are often extravagant, unreasonable, or fantastic. Associated with the aristocracy and more recently with eccentrics, these buildings are above all known in Europe. For example, the city of Montpellier, France is home to such historic buildings dating to the eighteenth century. To further distinguish itself, the city has just decided to modernize this concept by building twelve “Follies of the 21st Century” in the coming years.

The first two were announced in April, marking the materialization of work on the project which seeks to endow the city with new, exceptional places. They will be visible from the tramway lines in order to demonstrate Montpellier’s architectural originality to the eyes of its population, as well as to visitors. Even if the project is above all an urban one, its touristic qualities are far from being neglected! The Jardin de la Lironde, and L’arbre blanc (pictured above), will comprise the initial works.

At this time, when certain people are asking themselves about what is being built in Montreal’s city center, it seems to me that a certain foreign experiment is worth pursuing. How could we give Montreal distinctive, original buildings that carry our city’s unique brand? In a blog post titled “Architecture as a force behind development,” I gave several examples of institutional, cultural, and plainly touristic buildings that were built throughout Europe in order to draw attention.

For this current post, let’s focus on residence buildings and continue with the comparison between Montreal and Montpellier. This French city of a bit more than 250,000 inhabitants will construct twelve new follies. They will constitute a true circuit unified by the public transportation network. The follies will highlight the city and its landscapes, and also put the city on the map as a tourist destination for lovers of architecture.

The Château Dufresne of Montreal, Canada

Montreal in comparison? There is not any voluntary initiative like that of the Twelve Follies of the twenty-first century. Our city has nearly two million inhabitants, and currently several new high-rises are being built in the downtown. Will they be memorable? It is possible that we received a preview of them during the recent Montreal du futur exhibition, which showcased several major buildings set to come. There were not any projects as curious as Montpellier’s two new follies, but Icône (under construction) and Babylone (planned), both displayed a certain boldness nonetheless. Le Peterson also demonstrated originality with its wavelike balconies. The building is currently under construction in the entertainment district of Quartier des Spectacles.

Could our city host a circuit of follies? If we think about it, yes it could! The Chateau Dufresne could surely qualify as an architectural folly. A building worthy of being visited, it is among the city’s most distinctive, and it is possibly Montreal’s first folly, dating from 1918. Then there is Habitat 67, which is undeniably a folly. Of The Olympic Village, I am less sure.

What will Montreal’s twenty-first century architectural follies be? And when will a circuit be unveiled to showcase them? To learn more about architectural follies, I recommend the book Follies of Europe.

Given concerns about land use and urban densification, do purely ornamental follies have a place in twenty-first century cities?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.