Forget a tree house; what about a tree apartment complex, right in the heart of a medieval city?

Forget a tree house; what about a tree apartment complex, right in the heart of a medieval city?

With its emphasis on tradition -- it even has a nearly 400-year-old academy of "immortals" dedicated to protecting its language from foreign incursions -- France isn't necessarily the first country you'd imagine would embrace a piece of cutting-edge architecture, let alone a whole series of buildings in a single city.

Meet Montpellier, which just announced its second winner among a dozen 21st-century architectural "follies" it plans as contributions to its "built heritage of tomorrow." (The word "follies" -- or "folies" in French -- connotes fanciful buildings where the function, if any, is secondary. It's also said to derive from the French word for foliage, and indeed Montpellier's original follies are grand homes in leafy parklike settings.)

The 17-story mixed-use apartment building is called L'Arbre Blanc, or the White Tree, and bristles with terraces that branch out in every direction.

Click here or on an image to go to a slideshow.

The idea was to blur the distinction between indoor and outdoor, a recurring theme for architect Sou Fujimoto (he of the world's biggest public restroom, a glass box right in the middle of nature), whose firm worked on the project along with Nicolas Laisne Associates and Manal Rachdi OXO Architects.

The medieval city has a very young population -- it's a college town, and about 1 resident in 5 is a student -- which might help explain its enthusiasm for architectural derring-do. The New York Times named Montpellier one of the top places in the world to go in 2012, largely on the strength of new buildings by design stars (Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel), not to mention "what may be Europe's sexiest tram system."

Click here or on an image to go to a slideshow.

Here are the designers talking about the building:

Editor's update: We're not surprised that this building is eliciting strong reactions in the comments -- but we sure are impressed by the breadth of comparisons: A toilet brush. A Parkour dream. A Jenga game. A porcupine ice cream cone. Square petri dishes for Borg-like humans in a sci-fi dystopia. A giant white pineapple. A Rubik's Cube writ large. Lothlórien. An ant farm. A rat cage. Plinko. "Like a 3-D printer threw up." A helicopter. Dominoes. ... What do you see? Let us know in the comments, too! :)

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