VITROLLES – The prospect of visiting a city library can conjure up a variety of emotions for different users. For some, it brings the warmth of opportunity and a wholesomeness gained from perusing the shelves for the next bedtime reading material. For others, it is merely a place of necessity that brings back memories of dissertation research and painful deadlines. Parisian firm Jean-Pierre Lott has realised a multimedia library that considers a diverse clientele and aims to create a welcoming and nurturing atmosphere in the city of Vitrolles in the south of France.
Architecturally, the project is unapologetically contemporary – a trait that the architect puts down to the characteristics of the surrounding area: ‘New cities, like Vitrolles, were built in a short lapse of time; they lack history. The only buildings present are residential apartments,’ the architect comments. ‘It was important for us to let our multimedia library stand out architecturally in this monotone environment. The result wouldn’t have been the same in a historical city centre, composed of buildings from different centuries, each with their own historical richness.’
In creating an iconic symbol for the area, the project comprises two clashing volumes which sit one atop the other. At the base, a geometric, straight-edged, glass structure encourages transparency and invites visitors to enter the building. The ground floor accommodates the entrance, exhibition spaces, cafe and auditorium. Above, a concrete curtain hangs over the pavement and generates visual curiosity with its fluid movement and dense materiality. ‘The strength of the building is from the illusion that the upper part – the large, undulating veil of white cast-in-place concrete – seems to be supported by the glass façade on the ground floor,’ says the architect.
The clinically-white interior allows the greatest possible penetration of light from the southward-facing openings. The open-plan arrangement of the functional spaces mixes age groups, subject areas and literacy mediums, with books, games and video all integrated together. There is even a ‘Fairy Tale Hour’ room, which hangs from the ceiling, hovering above the reception to create a link between the children’s area and the adult section. It acts as a focal point of the composition and evokes the shape of a star – a place for storytelling and dreams.
The library is locally known as La Passerelle (which translates as ‘gateway’), symbolising the welcoming and open nature of the cultural facility, with an aim to nurture the individuality of the area’s residents and their specific needs. ‘Every part of the building has been designed in answer to a different need, using different forms and making the best use of the natural light,’ the architect concludes. ‘The architecture invites people to come inside and, once they enter, they feel at ease – this is the difference from a classical library.’
Plan – Level 0
Plan – Level 1
Plan – Level 2