Antigone

30Sep09

Though an ancient and beautiful city, my prior knowledge of Montpellier was restricted to its reputation as bastion of the architectural postmodern. I wandered from the old town into the Antigone district to check out what looks on the map like a St.Peter’s Sq. gone mad. (link)antigone1

As a statement in Civic ambition (aggrandisement) it is pretty staggering. Le Corbusier has been reigned off in this district, in favour of a Classical vernacular which borrows from ancient Greece (or Rome – take your pick). It was conceived and built between 1979-83, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it were newer maybe – after all, this is probably the template for much of what was de rigeur elsewhere in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

antigone3

“Ricardo Bofill’s post-modern sensibilities…have allowed him to create heroic public housing with advanced concrete techniques that evoke the splendors of past French rulers such as Louis XIV and Napoleon.”

antigone2Here you can find les Places Zeus, Dyonisus, de Marathon et de Thebes. A copy of the Samothracian winged Victory takes pride of place in Place de l’Europe, like a headless chicken frozen in its grandiloquent flight. (Classy – yes, and reminding me how nasty the pseudo-Classical carbon fibre figures were that used to occupy Paradise Forum, underneath Birmingham’s Central Library). For Antigone to have been built at all, particularly during a time of recession, must have involved some serious visioning from the Mayoralty, and probably a lot of demolition and rehousing. But the fact that French Cities can be so bold and make such proud, architectural statements whilst simultaneously referencing and protecting their local vernacular is impressive. In another 20 years much of Britain’s postmodern architecture will be being bulldozed, but concrete Antigone will be a lasting reminder of the time that the modern became passé.

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