Nestled into a valley at the foot of the French Alps, Grenoble is replete with panoramic vistas of the low mountains from Belldonne to Chartreuse. These sweeping views are perhaps best enjoyed from the balconies of the Quai de la Graille, a 10-storey concrete tower designed by R2K Architecte and built on a geometric square base.
Jutting out from the corners, the balconies offer 270-degree views, and a sense of floating above the landscape. And because R2K strategically positioned them in this way, rather than setting them into the building, they don’t take up interior space. But most intriguing is their form – inspired by tree fungus or the shells that cling to rocks – which adds a fun element to an otherwise nondescript facade.
Combining wooden cantilevered balconies with a concrete facade was an architectural first for the firm, which meant R2K experimented at each stage from design to installation. The decks are finished with laminated wood flooring, with the same material faceted on the underside. The plywood frame of each one contains a steel floor plate bolted to steel anchors that are embedded deep into the concrete slabs of the building.
The balconies were entirely pre-assembled at a carpenter’s shop before being shipped to the site, where they were lifted by crane and rapidly bolted into place – a strategy which allowed the team to install eight or nine each day. The railings are made from a rusted-iron-finished aluminum, perforated with a pattern that mirrors the surrounding mountainous landscape.
The tower on Quai de la Graille is part of a much larger development encompassing 250 hectares, roughly 18 per cent of the total area of Grenoble, conceived as an international campus and economic hub that encourages interaction between university students, researchers and the new neighbourhood of 10,000 residents. In addition to the tower, the plan calls for 10 other structures that will include a student dormitory, accessible and social rental housing, and retail space.