The hall sits at the prow of a building which, like all such structures, has to accommodate an odd mix of uses. This in a building of uncompromising modernity, and of great transparency. Unlike anything else in this provincial town, the city hall is evidently the source of great civic pride, having won awards for its architect Dubosc & Landowski (now Dubosc & Associés), and appearing on all of the town’s promotional material.

The disposition of spaces internally is clever, with entrance at the centre to a hall that connects directly to all other functions at that level, and a dramatic spiral staircase leading to the upper floor. But what first strikes the visitor is the building’s transparency, with the glass interspersed with gold-coloured cladding, consisting of insulated sandwich panels. The architect had this colour developed specifically for the project. The rounded front of the building cantilevers out above the hillside. It is reminiscent of a ship, with entrance via a drawbridge.

Eight four-part columns support the building, which bridges 16m between them. The columns are expressed on the outside, and coloured the same gold as the solid panels. A similar treatment is used for the barrel vaulted roof to the upper section, supported on lightweight steel trusses.

There can be few more traditional elements in a French town than the city hall. Yet, alongside the conventional structures from the 19th Century and earlier, there is also a line of experimentation in municipal buildings. Perhaps the highest profile has been Will Alsop’s Hotel du Departement de Bouches-du-Rhone (Le Grand Bleu) on the outskirts of Lyon. Like that dazzling blue structure, Gauchy’s golden building shows that a traditional function does not have to be contained within a traditionalist function. Bold thinking can result in a source of as much pride as historical heritage – and be considerably more eye-catching.

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