Alphabet Library

Alphabet Library in Montpellier, France by Hoffice, 2012.

As expected, Zaha Hadid's latest completed project -- the Pierres Vives building for Department de l’Hérault in Montpellier, France -- has been receiving a fair amount of press. The building combines an archive, library, and sports department inside a wrapper that supposedly expresses each component via alternating, ribbon-like solid and void strips and diagonals. The intentionally iconic building, though, also has interior components that must contend with Hadid's architecture. One such space is the Alphabet Library, designed by Stephane Hof (Hoffice), a good choice, given that he was the project architect for the whole building.

The project is a reading room for the archive, comprising an entrance desk, an information desk, reading room tables and library shelves. Even when the desks are split to provide access for people through the space, the basic idea is that all of the pieces express a continuity similar to the much larger Hadid building. White corian is the means of this expression, used for the desktops, frames for the bookshelves, and for the openings at doors. Shelf and desk supports are in a dark gray color whose contrast is amplified through the insertion of lighting that trace's the continuous white surfaces.

As a few of these photos indicate, the layout of the desks has to contend with the concrete structure of the Pierres Vives, which I'm surprised to see is a straightforward system, not angled like the building's diagonals. Nevertheless, while the desks route themselves around the square columns, the ceiling is a plane that reconciles the difference between the building's geometry and the reading room's program. The ceiling follows the structure's grid, but the rounded corners of the acoustical panels and the lighting in between them roots it in the design of the desks and shelves.

Stephane Hof attests that "the tables bend around the back wall to form the library with each piece of the puzzle referencing a letter of the alphabet." This reference that gives the library its name is evident in a few of the photos, such as the top one, where an A and B can be deciphered in the shelves by the window; in the photo at right the letter J can be read. Yet this approach is not like a postmodern billboard used for communication; it is a means of articulating the continuous surfaces, and perhaps even a puzzle for visitors to unlock. Whatever the case, the reading room is clearly and admirably of the Pierres Vives building without precisely mimicking its forms.