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Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier

A new public services where citizens meet sport and culture:

Pierres Vives, The new sports and library building in Montpellier uses dynamic window frames. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, was inspired by nature and created a “Tree of knowledge”. The archive represents the solid base – the trunk, followed by the library, which has a more open and porous design.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-04-759x506 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

The sporting facilities with offices are in the upper part of the building, where the trunk branches out. The various functions are merged together in the centre of the building. This is where you will find a lecture hall and meeting rooms combined with a huge self-supporting roof, which marks the public entrance to Pierres Vives on the west side. Construction commenced in 2006 and the building was completed in January 2012.

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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-08-759x822 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-09 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Pierres Vives:


Sharing knowledge – Exchanging memories – Sport and well-being – Thinking man in his architecture

Share knowledge:

Knowledge sharing is a perspective founder of popular education. In knowledge sharing, each is recognized as custodian of knowledge and producer of culture. Building digital pierresvives offers all those who want free access to information or accompanied in the archives reading room in the library or in the youth space.

Exchanging memories:

There can be no public education without thinking transmission between cultures and generations. The past tense is essential to our identity construction, both individual and collective. Those who take the time to make a memory of a time “to come”, as long as we allow the memories become history. In view pierresvives citizen, it is to enable the sharing of memories basis for understanding the world in which we live.

Sport and well-being:

Popular education, sport has always had a special place. He is recognized as a means of education and civic education as well as other practices deemed intellectual or artistic. Within the meaning of the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social (…). Pierresvives is part of a very deliberate in this approach, which wants to think the man in his unit, between physical and intellectual emancipation.

Thinking man in his architecture:

Architecture has always helped the man to make his life meaningful, to give him a seat in space and time. Like writing, architecture is trace, it indicates the presence of men, their ways of living and therefore their lifestyles over the centuries and territories. The choice of a high architectural signature for the realization of pierresvives, Zaha Hadid, was that this line of development is imposed in addition to three other themes.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-35-759x506 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Iwan Baan


A new public cultural and civic:

The Department of Hérault opens a new public facility at Northwestern Montpellier: pierresvives, the city of knowledge and sport for all.

A unique place where meet sport and culture:

City of knowledge and Sport for All brings together three major missions of the Department: memory with departmental archives, public reading with the department Media and Sport for All with Hérault Sport . By organizing this meeting, the Department of Hérault embodies the ancient wisdom Mens sana in corpore sano , brings together men and proposes artificial tear down the walls erected between the public and those of the culture of sport. This is the meaning of the name pierresvives borrowed from François Rabelais: “I built as living stones, are men.”

New services free and accessible to all:

Pierres vives wants to implement a new model of public service culture and citizenship. It offers free services, accessible to all audiences, especially the most vulnerable. It is a profession of faith in man and art: the intellectual and physical education through the exchange and sharing, man builds book book discovery after discovery, match after match, as a home is built brick by brick. The cultural offer is structured around four themes: sharing knowledge, exchanging memories combine sport and wellness, thinking man in his architecture.

Spaces open to the public:

City of knowledge and sport for all deploying multiple public spaces are all traveling in the universe of the architect Zaha Hadid

  • lobby with sweeping curves
  • amphitheater of 210 seats, cantilevered above the entrance
  • art gallery halo light
  • balcony with breathtaking ceilings, offering a bird’s eye view of the lobby
  • space young citizen
  • media pierresvives
  • reading rooms of archives
  • 9 000m2 square in front of the building.
Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-34-759x959 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hélène Binet

3.The architecture:

A ship of concrete and glass with impressive dimensions:

Pierres vives born of the control of the Department of Hérault and imagination of the architect Zaha Hadid. This building illustrates perfectly the vision of the architect ” Get great views from all angles . ” Geometry of flowing lines and sharp features superimposed planes, volumes cantilevered overhangs, undulating shapes, curved and sharp edges, set transparency and ribs that supply the building from the sap of knowledge. Ors, mouse gray, green, smoked, black crows … The light plays with the colors and materials, clings, flickering streetlight disappears, lights …

The striking building an impression of movement. The inside reveals other sensations volumes both soft and imposing walls sloped curve meeting, ceilings and breathtaking sucking the alluring look to the body height glazing transparency by bringing the outside in the cave of building, sky waves lit by the milky soft indirect light embedded in the ceiling.

Impressive dimensions:

  • 195 m long
  • 24 m height
  • 46 m wide
  • 26 000 m2
  • 1000 precast concrete panels for the façade
  • 8000 m2 of glass
  • Total weight: 80,000 tons (28,000 m3 of concrete, 3,000 tons of steel)
Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-24-759x383 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

A new signal for this sector Montpellier:

Pierresvives is a new signal to the Northwest of the city. Confident in the design of this equipment to the Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, world renowned and winner of multiple awards including the prestigious Pritzker Prize (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architecture), Department wished to give this sector a emblem representative of the great architecture of the twenty-first century.

The commitment of the General Council of Hérault for contemporary architecture is realized also through colleges, the creation of cultural facilities such as the Amphitheatre of O, O Theatre and Theatre next Domaine d’O …

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-22-759x928 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow


“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 and beam structure, but the archival areas had to be reinforced six times more than is normal to support high-density storage, and the auditorium is cantilevered 10m out over the entry and back over the foyer with no visible means of support. Long beams and the heavy-duty structure freed the architects to attach massive wall panels and to pull in abundant natural light. The double-glazing is well shaded in summer and the concrete provides thermal mass in winter, making the building energy efficient.

The public enters from the west beneath the suspended canopy of the 200-seat auditorium; staff and deliveries from the east. Each of the three programs has its own dedicated zone, but share many amenities. The foyer is common ground for public and staff, and here all the shapes on the façade are distilled into a single sensuous volume. Swooping surfaces and sinuous lines, smooth faced concrete and polished floors, as well as the lines of light cut into the ceilings combine to provide a sense of exhilaration. Glazing bars amplify the curvilinear geometry of the glazing.

The archives are located on four levels and will expand into the basement. Researchers can use the spacious reading rooms. Readers of all ages are welcome in the library, which supplements those of the city and provides a valuable educational and recreational resource for local residents, and especially the many immigrants who have gravitated to Montpellier in search of employment. Pierres Vives is the centerpiece of a master plan to revitalize this quarter.

Office workers are equally fortunate, enjoying well-lit offices and a glazed interior courtyard as a break-out area on the top floor. Throughout the building, there’s a consistency in the material palette, to unify the 35,000 sqm and make best use of a tight budget.

Few architects have displayed greater talent yet waited so long to fulfill their promise. Now that Zaha Hadid heads a large network and is a first choice for major projects world-wide, it’s hard to remember that her first building – the Vitra Fire Station – was completed only 18 years ago. Since then, as the work has grown in scale and ambition, her designs have sometimes seemed too much an end in themselves. Pierres Vives should confound the skeptics and reinforce her reputation as one of the great formgivers of our era. It’s a major addition to a city that recently acquired two other major monuments: Jean Nouvel’s Hôtel de Ville and Massimiliano Fuksas’s Lycée Hôtelier Georges Frêche. Pierres Vives is a stand-out in form and functionality.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-21 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

Zaha Hadid Architects:

The pierresvives building for the department de l’Herault is the unification 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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-28-759x427 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Jean-Baptiste Maurice

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 offices 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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-40 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Iwan Baan

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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-07-759x667 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hufton + Crow

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.

Pierres-Vives-Library-Sports-Department-Building-in-Montpellier-By-Zaha-Hadid-Architects-42-759x601 Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier /  Zaha Hadid Architects

© Hélène Binet

Project Data:

Project name: Pierres Vives
Location: 907 Rue du Professeur Blayac, 34196 Montpellier, France
Coordinates: 43.624737, 3.823714
Type: Library, Educational Center
Structural: Concrete with curved aluminium profiles

  • Facades coverage: 5,050 m2
  • Facades type: mullion and transom
  • Glazing type: selective neutral with Vanceva


  • Site Area: 96,032 sqm
  • Floor Area: 35,000 sqm
  • Glass facade: 8,000 sqm
  • Concrete facade: 8,500 sqm
  • Area of the library: 2,900 sqm
  • Area sports office: 860 sqm
  • Precast concrete: 2,600 m3
  • Reinforcement: 2,800 tons

Project Year: 2002 – 2012
Construction Year: 2006 – 2012
Status: Built
Cost: €125 million
Completion Year: 2012

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Département de l’Hérault, Le President Andre Vezhinet
Architects: Zaha Hadid Architects – Studio London, 10 Bowling Green Lane, London, United Kingdom
Project designer: Zaha Hadid
Project Architect: Stephane Hof
Project Team:

  • 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, 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

Project Leader: Joris Pauwels
Local Architect: Design Phase – Blue Tango, Execution Phase – Chabanne et Partenaires
Structural: Ove Arup & Partners
Services: Ove Arup & Partners, (Concept Design) & GEC Ingenierie
Acoustics: Rouch Acoustique, Nicolas Albaric
Cost / QS: Gec LR, Ivica Knezovic
Text Description: © Courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects, kersteneurope, theplan, Pierres Vives, worldarchitecturenews
Images: © Zaha Hadid Architects, Jean-Baptiste Maurice, Hélène BinetHufton + CrowIwan Baan


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Pierres Vives Library & Sports Department Building in Montpellier / Zaha Hadid Architects
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