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Pierres Vives Building

Zaha Hadid Architects as Architects

The pierresvives building for the department de l’Herault is the unifi cation of three institutions - the archive, the library and the sports department - within a single envelope. These various parts combine to create a building with a strong single identity when viewed at a distance, but as one moves closer, the division into three parts becomes apparent. The building has been developed using functional and economic logic: the resultant design reminiscent of a large tree-trunk that has been laid horizontally. 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 offi ces on far end where the trunk bifurcates and becomes much lighter. ‘Branches’ project vertically off the main trunk to articulate points of access to the various institutions.

This longitudinal division of serviced and servicing spaces is maintained along the full length of pierresvives. The front of the building contains all the public functions of each institution, linked by a linear lobby with an exhibition space in the centre. Above this connective ground level, the three institutions remain strictly separated, each with its own core for internal vertical circulation.

On arrival at the main entrance, visitors are directed from the lobby to the educational spaces of the archives on ground level; or via lifts and escalator to the main public artery on level one. This artery is articulated all along the facades as a recessed glass strip, with the reading rooms of the archive and library are immediately accessible. Central in this artery and therefore located at the heart of the building, are the main public facilities shared between the three institutions: the auditorium and meeting rooms. These important public spaces form the primary central volume of the grand cantilevering canopy above the entrance.

Curtain Walls for interplanetary spacecraft

Reynaers Aluminium as Facade system

British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, loves complexity, as is borne out by her outstanding creation in Montpellier called ‘Pierres Vives’ (Living Stones). This impressive ship of a building, measuring 200 metres long and 25 metres tall and, with its sloping façades, resembling something out of a science fiction film, is designed to house the archives, a media library and offices of ‘Hérault Sport’ association for the Hérault department.

‘Pierres Vives’ sits at the heart of the eponymous new district northwest of the city of Montpellier in the Hérault department of southern France, as a bold architectural statement for the region. ‘The project’s three component parts are merged into a shape resembling a horizontal tree trunk. The branches project out from the trunk to allow access to different areas of the monolithic, glass encased building,’ explains project architect Stephane Hof. This fallen ‘tree of knowledge’ is a constructional tour de force, as evidenced by its imposing size and its spectacular façades consisting of over one thousand large precast concrete modules which echo the flow of the column-beam structure. Extending between these complexly shaped elements, assembled like a 3D puzzle, is a system of curtain walls fitted with Reynaers CW 70 aluminium profiles, a bespoke solution based on the existing CW 50 system. Painstaking studies are called for when eveloping the façades due to the constraints imposed on their assembly by the different, intricately cut, concrete shells. Stephane Hof: ‘The interesting aspect of this solution is that we used standard profiles and, by bending them, created a specific solution that actually forms the link between the curved concrete and the glass.’ A cross between an ‘administrative vessel’ and a ‘citadel of knowledge,’ this spectacular monolith of concrete and glass takes its name from a quote by the humanist French writer Rabelais, ‘I build only living stones – men,’ and is therefore based on the idea of the tree of knowledge. The bottom section, housing the departmental archives (9,500 m2) comprising 60 km of records stored in concrete silos featuring a controlled humidity and temperature environment, forms the solid base of the trunk, above which is the library (2,900 m2), designed as a lighter and more porous structure to accommodate 300,000 books, and finally the top section, with the sports department and its offices (860 m2), represents the branches and leaves. All three entities share various functions at the heart of the building such as a 200-seat amphitheatre, exhibition halls, meeting rooms, multimedia spaces, administration offices as well as the reception area and canopied main entrance.

Printed circuit boards Meticulous technical skills and a highprecision layout were required to create these façades, which seem to extend as though made of elastic. They are visually reminiscent of the complex spirals of printed circuit board codes, contrasted with the light and flexible appearance of the concrete elements. The façades on the north (the base of the fallen tree), east and west (the trunk of the tree) consist of different vertical planes while the other façades slope at 36 degrees, a challenge for Reynaers, who delivered all the aluminium joinery for the glass walls (apart from the brisesoleil). Indeed, the exterior of the building is characterised by ribbed glass and contoured surfaces that follow and accentuate the idea of movement. These stile and rail façades comprise a hidden fastening system for the glazing which was specially adapted by Reynaers for this project. A further complexity was added by the curvilinear movement of the façades, which meant calendering the curtain wall components. Architect Hof: ‘Bending the profiles in the vertical direction was relatively easy, but the parts on the sloping façade definitely were a challenge for the Italian contractor. However, they were thrilled to work on this solution. Certain curves in the façade have in fact been made by hand.’ By offering spacious interiors with spectacular visibility, Zaha Hadid has delivered Montpellier a new architectural feat, the realisation of which will once again have pushed the constructional boundaries in pursuit of spatial challenges. The building is now ready for use, inaugurating this new district of ‘Pierres Vives,’ in which housing, shops and public gardens are soon set to spring up.

PIERRES VIVES Architectural Design: Zaha Hadid Project Architect: Stephane Hof Local Architect (Execution Phase): Chabanne et Partenaires Engineers: Ove Arup & Gec Ingenierie Façade Engineer: Emmer Pfenninger Partner Client: Conseil General de L’Hérault Client Représentative: Hérault Aménagement Contractor: Vinci Construction France, Sogea Sud group (agent), Dumez Sud and GT M Sud Fabricator: TOSONI LINO S.P.A., Villafranca di Verona, Italy Used Reynaers systems: CW 70, bespoke solution based on CW 50-SC


URBASTYLE as Manufacturers

URBASTYLE has produced beautiful benches in architectural concrete for and in the same design spirit as the amazing building that Zaha Hadid commited for Montpellier. They are visible on the main square and in the square of the eco-village. Here below on the picture.

Project Credits
Products used in this project
Product Spec Sheet

ElementBrandProduct name
Facade systemReynaers Aluminium
ManufacturersTOSONI LINO S.P.A.
Product Spec Sheet
Facade system
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