Pierres Vives Form and Function fuse to create expressive and dynamic Civic Spaces | The Plan
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Pierres Vives Form and Function fuse to create expressive and dynamic Civic Spaces

Zaha Hadid Architects

“I don’t design nice buildings,” says Zaha Hadid, “I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality.” Those adjectives aptly describe Pierres Vives, a dynamic complex located on the western edge of Montpellier, a fast expanding city in southern France. Zaha Hadid Architects won the 2003 competition to create this integrated facility for the Département de l’Hérault, and, though the program was trimmed over five years of preparation, her vision survived intact. She likens it to a large tree trunk laid horizontally, with the regional archives at the base, the more porous library and public spaces at the center, and the well-lit offices for sports officials at the end where the trunk bifurcates. That natural metaphor captures the fluidity of exterior lines and internal spaces, but the three-dimensional geometry of the facades has the brutal grace of the Russian Constructivists, whose concepts she has realized in her own inimitable fashion. Pierres Vives takes its name from a remark of the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais: “I build only living stones-men.” A freethinker, who taught at the University of Montpellier, Rabelais would find much to admire in the bold expression of this building. The flow of round-cornered concrete panels, seamlessly joined, of inset bands of glass and gilded fins break up the mass of the 200m-long block and impart a sense of motion. Extruded volumes add depth and reinforce the feeling of kinetic energy. As project architect Stephane Vallotton recalls, “the shape of the building derives from the 60 degree angle of the escalator that was specified for the two-level foyer, and the morphology of angles started spreading in a playful way throughout the building.” The architecture drama is boldly expressed, while the structural frame is concealed. As Arup engineer Sophie Le Bourva explains, “Arup and Hadid have worked together for so many years that we know how to ask each other the right questions.” Essentially it’s a post...

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