‘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 developing 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.