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The tree-of-knowledge building

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October 3, 2006

The tree-of-knowledge building

The tree-of-knowledge building

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October 4, 2006 The Pierres Vives building for the French Department of Herault on the edge of Montpellier is unique in that it will be a combination of three civic institutions - the archives, the library and the sports department - within a single envelope. Given the contained programs, the spectacular design is inspired by the idea of a 'tree of knowledge' as an organizational diagram. The archive is located at the solid base of the trunk, followed by the slightly more porous library, with the sports department and its offices on top where the trunk bifurcates and becomes much lighter. Designed by Stephane Hof of Zaha Hadid Architects, work is due to start on site at the end of this year. The image library for this article is a must for those who appreciate the finest architectural design.

The various parts of this "cite administrative" share several functions at the heart of the building, with auditorium and meeting rooms combining in a huge cantilever canopy above the main entrance. The branches projecting off the main trunk on ground floor, articulate the entrances into the various institutions. All the public entrances are located on the western side of the building; whilst the service entrances for staff and loading bays are on the eastern side. In this way the tree-trunk analogy is exploited to organise and articulate the complexity of the overall "cite administrative".

The project as outlined by Zaha Hadid architects reads as follows:

Our design is based on a series of key qualities that characterise the new building for the Department of Herault:

- The building should be a new landmark on the edge of Montpellier, a visible icon of progressive regional government.

- This large complex of institutions requires an efficient and clear organisation, both for the benefit of easy public access/orientation and for the sake of a productive and pleasant working atmosphere.

The three institutions - the archive, the library and the sport department - are unified within a single, envelope. The three parts of this "cite administrative" combine into a strong figure visible far into the landscape. As one moves closer, the division into three parts becomes apparent.

The building has been developed on the basis of a rigorous pursuit of functional and economic logic combined with the organisational diagram of a 'tree of knowledge'. The resultant figure is reminiscent of a large tree-trunk with the archives 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 articulate the points of access and the entrances into the various institutions. All the public entrances are located on the western side of the building; whilst the service entrances for staff and loading bays are on the eastern side. In this way, the tree-trunk analogy is exploited to organise and articulate the complexity of the overall "cite administrative".

Spatial Organisation

The main vehicular access road for visitors as well as for staff and service vehicles is from Rue Marius Petipa, and provides access to either side of the building. There is a generous visitor car park in front of the main entrance lobby. The service access is stretched along the opposite side of the building. This longitudinal division of serviced and servicing spaces is maintained within the ground floor along the full length of the building.

The front side contains all the public functions of each institution, linked by a linear lobby and central exhibition space. To the rear of the building, all the service, storage and garage areas are located. Above the ground level, the three institutions remain strictly separated. Each institution has its own internal vertical circulation and is laid out following its specific functional logic.

Upon 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 escalators to the main public artery on level 1. This artery runs the entire length of the building and is articulated all along the facades as a recessed glass strip. Here, reading rooms of both the archives and library are immediately accessible. Central to 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.

Please note – all images copyright Zaha Hadid Architects, renderings by Stack Studio, presentation models by A models and photographs by David Grandorge.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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