A series of wood frames symbolizing photos in an album was installed in Montpellier by Francois Fabien and Mailys Sarrazin of Bordeaux, France.

A series of wood frames symbolizing photos in an album was installed in Montpellier by Francois Fabien and Mailys Sarrazin of Bordeaux, France.

Credit: photoarchitecture.com


In the art world, the cultural calendar is marked by an ever-growing sequence of fairs and festivals, with biennales and triennales cropping up from South Korea to Morocco. By comparison, the itinerary in Design Land is fairly light: Though the field boasts a number of venerable trade functions (Salone, NeoCon) and a few non-commercial events (Venice, Lisbon), they simply don’t appear to be multiplying at the rate art fairs have been, and they tend receive altogether less public exposure.

  • A pinscreen installation in Montpellier, designed by BYME (Fanny Bouchet of Grenoble, France, and Emmanuelle Messier of Geneva).

    Credit: photoarchitecture.com

    A pinscreen installation in Montpellier, designed by BYME (Fanny Bouchet of Grenoble, France, and Emmanuelle Messier of Geneva).
  • A snowglobe installation by the designers, engineers and manufacturers of Toulouse-based Archicool Collectif.

    Credit: photoarchitecture.com

    A snowglobe installation by the designers, engineers and manufacturers of Toulouse-based Archicool Collectif.

Enter Le Festival des architectures vives (FAV)—literally, the Festival of Lively Architectures, an international exhibition held in the southern French city of Montpellier. Now going into its eighth year, FAV is a labor of love for its director, local architect Elodie Nourrigat, who helped bring the event to her home city after its maiden voyage in Paris in 2005. “We wanted to highlight the work of young architects,” Nourrigat explains, “and in Montpellier, there all these beautiful old buildings for them to play in.” The event has become a fixture in a town already celebrated for its contemporary architecture, with new large-scale projects from architects like Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, and Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, close at hand.

Paris-based Atelier Senzu installed a giant game of telephone in a courtyard in Montpellier.

Paris-based Atelier Senzu installed a giant game of telephone in a courtyard in Montpellier.

Credit: photoarchitecture.com


From a broad pool of applicants, the organizers select 10 young firms to create installations in the old front courts of the hotel particuliers, the urban mansions around the city, all of them reflecting the year’s designated theme; the practices submitting proposals are overwhelmingly European, but each year the directors also typically invite one non-European university to participate as well, for an eleventh pavilion: The 2013 contribution came from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. 

  • The team from Harvard's GSD installed MemoryScape in Montpellier.

    Credit: photoarchitecture.com

    The team from Harvard's GSD installed MemoryScape in Montpellier.
  • Prolepsis, an installation in Montpellier by Toulouse, France-based design collective RNDM+.

    Credit: photoarchitecture.com

    Prolepsis, an installation in Montpellier by Toulouse, France-based design collective RNDM+.

This year’s festival theme, “Memory,” drew a remarkable array of responses, from designer Lucien Puech’s stacked hay bales (reflecting the region’s pastoral history), to group Collectif RNDM’s winning “Prolepse” installation—a series of commemorative grave markers for assorted cultural phenomena (among them “Cancer” and “Maps”). This year’s FAV also marked the debut of a new sister exposition in the nearby beach community of La Grand-Motte; the Montpellier installations traveled to the second site and were joined by five additional pavilions.

An installation recreating a previous autumn in a courtyard in summer, designed by Stefan Delvoye and Viktor Milletic of Paris-based Frame Squared.

An installation recreating a previous autumn in a courtyard in summer, designed by Stefan Delvoye and Viktor Milletic of Paris-based Frame Squared.

Credit: photoarchitecture.com


Part of what makes an event like FAV so intriguing is the way in which it seems a fitting riposte to the hype and pretenses of all those glamorous global art fairs. Montpellier contributor Stefan Delvoye’s project—a dimmed courtyard strewn with rotting leaves—was an instance of how close the exhibitors could come to conventional artistic installations; yet the designer’s earnest investigation of space, ambiance, and environment made his piece feel free of the heavy conceptual (not to mention commercial) baggage that weighs down so much art-fair art. As Delvoye puts it, the festival creates “an atmosphere of surprise,” a place where “our crazy spatial interventions generate debate about this weird science of architecture.”

As series of pinwheels, meant to recall childhood memories, was installed in La Grand-Motte by design collective A3P, based in Montpellier and Lausanne, Switzerland.

As series of pinwheels, meant to recall childhood memories, was installed in La Grand-Motte by design collective A3P, based in Montpellier and Lausanne, Switzerland.

Credit: photoarchitecture.com


Architectural Traps for Memories, by Barcelona-based Yolanda Ortega Sanz and Jaime J. Ferrer Fores, is an installation that takes advantage of existing plaforms across a fountain in La Grand-Motte, encasing several in lightweight structures to make translucent pavilions.

Architectural Traps for Memories, by Barcelona-based Yolanda Ortega Sanz and Jaime J. Ferrer Fores, is an installation that takes advantage of existing plaforms across a fountain in La Grand-Motte, encasing several in lightweight structures to make translucent pavilions.

Credit: photoarchitecture.com