This coming Thursday, Zaha Hadid’s latest project in France will be inaugurated. The Pierres Vives Building in Montpellier, Southern France is a bold new addition to the landscape, bringing together three previously separate branches of the Herault regional government. Hadid has completed a handful of projects in France, the first being the surprisingly subtle Hoenheim-Nord Terminus and Car Park in Strasbourg, realised in 2001.
On this more recent scheme, the architect’s strong design aesthetic is much more apparent. The burgeoning city of Montpellier - the fastest growing city in France - has been injected with an amalgamation of concrete and green-tinted glass, within which the city archive, library and sports department are enveloped.
As design inspiration, Hadid looked to a felled tree, using the imagery of spreading branches to devise a network of passages and circulation routes to keep the three departments separate yet easily navigable within the 35,000 sq m facility. Each of the three areas has its own set of cores for internal vertical circulation.
Zaha Hadid Architects explains: “The archive is located at the solid base of the trunk, followed by the slightly more porous library with the sports department and its well-lit offices on top where the trunk bifurcates and becomes much lighter. The branches projecting off the main trunk are articulating the points of access and the entrances into the various institutions…In this way the tree-trunk analogy is exploited to organise and articulate the complexity of the overall ‘cite administrative’.”
The mass of raw concrete so often found in Hadid’s work is sliced through with a shot of green-tinted glass which runs the length of the building. This strip marks the main public artery on level one, leading to the reading rooms of the archives and the library, easing wayfinding and enabling generous daylighting for these public spaces.
While the epicentres of the archive, library and sports department are kept entirely independent from one another, there are certain areas which are for general usage such as the main auditorium and meeting rooms. These public function spaces are located in the immense cantilevering volume which overhangs the main entrance to Pierres Vives in a classic example of Hadid’s confident architectural expression.