Roxim Group, a property development and management company in Montpellier, France, planned a fitness center in the growing hub of local activity, Port Marianne. The company envisaged elements that would “turn it into an essential part of city life, just like the Roman baths where people went for reasons of personal hygiene, body care, exercise, meeting friends, eating or even talking business,” according to the Roxim website. The architecture had to demand attention, so Roxim Group asked Philippe Starck, a well-known furniture, product and industrial designer, to step into the world of architecture.
The result, Le Nuage, is “the first inflatable building in France,” according to Starck, who designed the building façade using inflated semi-transparent bubbles of ETFE membrane.
Starck sees each of the floors (ground floor, mezzanine and three upper levels) as a village, where many activities take place and casual interactions are ongoing. The membrane ‘clouds’ consist of more than 32,000 square feet of dimpled ETFE attached to a framework on Le Nuage’s exterior and inflated with hot air to 700 bars of pressure. The material surface allows people to see activity inside the fitness center, and users to see activity outdoors. Opaque metal boxes that facilitate airflow punctuate the inflated membrane like buttons on a pillow. The unique exterior, lighted from within at night, adds color and interest to the landscape.