Concrete cloud at a busy thoroughfare: Media library in Vitrolles
Client: Stadt Vitrolles
Architect: Jean-Pierre Lott
Location: Avenue des Salyens, Vitrolles (FR)
Vitrolles lies right behind Marseilles Airport, about 15 kilometres north-west of the southern French port city. After the Second World War, the small community suffered the same fate as many other towns at the edge of large French cities, namely rapid growth and housing development in the form of huge soulless apartment blocks lacking any clear urban development vision. The population increased ten-fold between 1960 and 2000 alone, and some 35,000 people live in Vitrolles today.
In 2012 a restricted competition was held for a media library in the heart of one of these post-war housing areas, and was won by the Parisian architect Jean-Pierre Lott. The facility he designed is a solitary building among others, but in shape it marks a radical departure from all the slab blocks, cubes and high-rise buildings of the surroundings. Only the ground floor and the mezzanine floor above it follow the straight lines of the road; rather, wavy, undulating contours characterise the closed white concrete façade that projects out above these base storeys.
The ground floor of the four-storey building houses the library lending desk, the children's section, a lecture hall, a café and exhibition spaces, whereby the café, auditorium and exhibition area are designed for separate use once the library has closed for the day. The greater part of the open stacks lending section is located up on the first floor, along with several workrooms and an outdoor terrace with wooden decking, situated behind a concrete, amoeba-like screen. The second storey is set back somewhat from the lower levels and contains the administration offices. Archive rooms are located down on the basement level.
The right angles of the entrance facade are nowhere to be seen indoors, where bold curves predominate on the parapets, staircases, lending counters and partition walls. To avoid any impression of visual chaos, all surfaces with the exception of the floors are white. Daylight mainly enters the building through openings in the northern facade and a skylight slit; the southern façade, on the other hand, is closed off to a large extent.
Two broad, curved staircases lead up to the first floor, meaning the entire reading area can be walked through without having to turn back. An elevated walkway transverses the central, two-storey void, dividing it into two parts. In one of these parts the architects have placed the most intimate and most unusual feature of the whole library building: a "fairy tale hour" room in the form of a raised, almost completely closed oval volume for concentrated story-telling.