Visitors enter Pierresvives under a cantilevered amphitheater, which serves as a canopy, and progress into a two-level, three-story hall whose ceilings, angled at 36 degrees, rise to very generous public spaces that then flow up to the mediathèque. The open spaces seem to carve out a procession through the solid form. With obsessive systematicity, the architects make the notion of tree sap graphic, recessing striated lighting whose traces flow through spaces that themselves are visibly fluid. The architect has made a career out of urbanizing the interiors of her buildings and architecturalizing the surrounding public spaces, so that the underlying fabric continues outside and inside.
Vezinhet says that what he likes most about the building is its “transparency—it’s a big building, but still light and transparent.” A monument with such a declarative architectural presence at the service of a social mission naturally attracted attention and, with it, opposition. The project was criticized as too expensive, and even “too beautiful,” but Vezinhet continued to support the project, even through difficult cost negotiations that eventually yielded an affordable price within budget.
Having seen the project to completion, Vezinhet has also initiated an outreach program of architectural seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and lectures, and an active program of visits to explain the structure and its program to the community. “My goal was an appropriation of this building by the people.” Crowds now perceive it as theirs, not his. The public owns the building.
When Pierresvives opened in September, it was visited by thousands of residents, many of them Maghrebian women wearing headscarves. At the opening, Hadid spent hours with people from La Paillade, fielding questions, sometimes in Arabic, and introducing the building by introducing herself. The response was clear: Vezinhet recalls one visitor from the neighborhood, wearing a head scarf, telling him: “Thank you for giving us beauty.”
Project Pierresvives, Montpellier, France
Client Departement de l’Herault
Architect Zaha Hadid Architects, London—Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA (architectural design); Stephane Hof (project architect); Joris Pauwels, Philipp Vogt, Rafael Portillo, Jaime Serra, Renata Dantas, Melissa Fukumoto, Jens Borstelman, Thomas Vietzke, Patrik Schumacher, Kane Yanegawa, Loreto Flores, Edgar Payan, Lisamarie Villegas Ambia, Karouko Ogawa, Stella Nikolakaki, Hon Kong Chee, Caroline Andersen, Judith Reitz, Olivier Ottevaere, Achim Gergen, Daniel Baerlecken, Yosuke Hayano, Martin Henn, Rafael Schmidt, Daniel Gospodinov, Kia Larsdotter, Jasmina Malanovic, Ahmad Sukkar, Ghita Skalli, Elena Perez, Andrea B. Caste, Lisa Cholmondeley, AIA, Douglas Chew, Larissa Henke, Steven Hatzellis, Jesse Chima, Adriano De Gioannis, Simon Kim, Stephane Carnuccini, Samer Chamoun, Ram Ahronov, Ross Langdon, Ivan Valdez, Yacira Blanco, Marta Rodriguez, Leonardo Garcia, Sevil Yazici, Hussam Chakouf, Marie-Perrine Placais, Monica Noguero, Naomi Fritz, Stephanie Chaltiel (design team)
Local Architect Blue Tango (design phase); Chabanne et Partenaires (execution phase)
Structural Engineer Ove Arup & Partners
General Contractor Vinci Construction (Nanterre)
Acoustics Rouch Acoustique and Nicolas Albaric
Cost Consultant Gec LR—Ivica Knezovic
Size 35,000 square meters (376,737 square feet)
Materials and Sources
Adhesives, Sealants, and Coatings Dow Corning Corp. dowcorning.com; Hilti Corp. hilti.com
Curtainwall Reynaers Aluminum www.reynaers.com
Exterior Wall Systems Prefabricated concrete panels; aluminum-finned brise soleil over glazing
Insulation Isover, a St. Gobain Co. www.isover.com
Roofing Carlisle SynTec (Classic EPDM) carlislesyntec.com
Structure Steel-reinforced concrete structure