Elevation view of Le Ray in Nice, France. Three main buildings. plantings on walls and roofs are visible.

In France, a New Neighborhood Is Part of the Adjacent Park—or Is it the Other Way Around?

Édouard François’s latest plant-clad building rises in Nice, France. Called Le Ray, the architect hopes it will point the way toward a greener way of building and living.

The French architect Édouard François is famous for making living plants an integral part of his architecture. Ever since he set up his Paris office in 1998, he has been searching for new ways to include flora in his designs: In 2000, “The Building that Grows” featured widely cantilevering, wooden balconies that stretched far into the dense greenery around the apartment buildings. In 2004, the “Flower Tower” wrapped a social housing project in an open layer of terraces with oversized flowerpots, creating an intense, jungle-like green layer. That same year in Paris, François proved that even a simple ventilation shaft could be transformed by dense vegetation that seasonally features beautiful blossoms. Together with Patrick Blanc, the inventor of the Vertical Garden, Francois ranks high among the most important proponents of a new green architecture in Europe.

In 2021, François has finished what is, thus far, his largest project: “Le Ray” is a new neighborhood in the city of Nice in the south of France on the Mediterranean coast. The location used to be the site of the city’s former sports stadium which was demolished when a new arena opened in the suburbs. After the demolition, most of the 10-hectare area became a new public park designed by Jean-Frédéric Gay, integrating the remaining athletic facilities. But along the main street, where bus and tram lines provide a quick connection to the city center and the beach, a new residential project containing 350 apartments and 65,000 square feet of commercial space has taken root.

extensive plantings on the exterior wall of Le Ray in Nice, France
Extensive greenery is a signature for Édouard François. Le Ray in Nice, France, is his largest building to date. Exterior walls are clad with plantings that over time will grow to form a massive vertical garden. COURTESY MAISON EDOUARD FRANCOIS

Édouard François, who won the architectural competition, says that the local landscape was the point of departure for his design. “It is a typically luxuriant Mediterranean landscape with beautiful trees reaching heights of more than 165 feet, sun-drenched and watered by underground rivers,” he says. From the site, panoramic views open up over the city center and the Mediterranean Sea to the south and to the green hills surrounding Nice. The main idea was to create a new neighborhood that would incorporate this greenery as much as possible—to combine the new buildings with the new park. François says it was the “logical choice” to ask the landscape architect of the park to also design the landscaping for the housing blocks.

Greenery covers balconies, walls, and the street level.
Le Ray was built alongside a new public park on the site of the city’s former sports stadium. The building’s unique biophilic architecture blurs the line between housing development and greenspace. COURTESY MAISON EDOUARD FRANCOIS

Towards the main street lie the buildings with the highest density, while the neighborhood opens up towards the park in the East. To this side François points out that the buildings are not just “greened”, but that they “support greenery”. It is an important difference to him: Behind the foliage is a second facade which is completely independent. In front of it, there is a structure of concrete platforms, wooden supports and cables of stainless steel that form a trellis for climbing plants coming up from the planted beds that surround the building’s volumes. François refers to this green zone as the jardin extraordinaire, the “extraordinary garden,” that will develop over three years’ time into a dense cover of greenery that connects the buildings and the adjacent park—as if a park that has simply grown over the buildings standing next to it. A very particular way of connecting human habitats with nature and one that will, as François hopes, present a prime example for our future cities.

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