For their summer issue the Swedish design and architecture magazine Rum asked us to suggest an inspiring holiday destination. Well here it is: La Grande Motte
La Grande Motte is outlandish. It is one of the rare cities that is planned and designed from scratch by one single architect. Jean Balladur created a city of Ziggurats. A freak family of Pyramids. Différence et Répétition.
La Grande Motte opened in summer ‘68 as the corner stone of the largest state-sponsored tourist project in Europe. The central idea was to create 5 resorts that were to be set in green zones of protected natural coastline that would avoid the noxious ribbon-sprawl that poisoned many an oceanfront. (Shelley Baranowski and Ellen Furlough in Being Elsewhere)
La Grande Motte is a deeply inspiring experiment; it keeps you fantasizing continually on how to formulate a New City. A great place to read Italo Calvino.
La Grande Motte is optimistic. The so-called Rancine Mission, the organizational and ideological blueprint for the region as a whole, sets the ambition: La Grande Motte should “banish the common place”. It radiates a strong believe in the New that now seems to be absent in Europe. The idea to create a city from scratch in this time frame is unimaginable, but what could be more exciting than constructing a completely new urban environment?
La Grande Motte was invented by General de Gaulle in an attempt to counter the popularity of the cheap Spanish Costas. The site is in the Camargue, a swamp in Languedoc, known for the Flamants Rose (the pink flamingos) and surprisingly for the absence of mosquitoes. Thanks to an army of 150 ‘special agents’, the government successfully managed to eradicate the pest in spite of protests of local politicians. They claimed the mosquitoes help blood circulation and protect against rheumatism! According to the authorities this miracle was achieved in an environmentally friendly way. But it remains a mystery exactly how…
La Grande Motte could not ‘parasite’ on remarkable features in the landscape, it had to create them: the City is an artificial cliff. The repetitive pyramid shape seems to be beneficial in terms of the regular fierce wind speeds; it helps creating a pleasant climate.
La Grande Motte features three hectares of beach, 43.000 trees, 31 hectares of shrubs, 20 Km of pedestrians areas and more than 2700 hours of sunlight. Parks cover ¾ of the town!
La Grande Motte’s coherence is impressive, the difference sometimes disappointing, the variation superficial, ‘plastic’ almost, or too formal here and there. Obviously there were too many buildings to be invented at the same time… But often the inventive structures are seductive, sensationally sculptural, blissfully Futuristic.
La Grande Motte is a surreal experience. Loudspeakers on the promenades announce the activities of the day. La Grande Motte is a crossover between the Flintstones and the Truman show. Monsieur Hulot on designer drugs.