When the project of a new library for the French city of Vitrolles got underway in 2002, this suburb of Marseilles was in dire need of revival. At the end of the 1970s, what was then a picturesque Provencal village on the outskirts of Marseilles was chosen for the development of a “Ville Nouvelle” to house an influx of workers drawn to the rapid industrial development of the area. To prevent the town to become a dormitory community, the then progressive municipal government invested in cultural institutions such as art-house cinema “Les Lumières” and a massive concert venue, the “Stadium”.
This policy swerved 180 degrees in 1995 when far-right Front National mayor Catherine Mégret took over city hall. Within months, the art-house cinema was abruptly shut down for having shown a movie touching on the AIDS crisis and the LGBT community. A community centre that was helping disenfranchised youth was forcefully walled over after it refused to shut down. Once the pride of town, the Stadium became a ruin. Mégret only lasted one 5 year term, but left Vitrolles a distraught bedroom community plagued by poor urban design, especially in its dense cluster of blighted high-rises where violence was rampant.
A key part of the ambitious urban renewal project led by the two progressive administrations that followed was reconnecting those dense social housing neighbourhoods to the city and bring amenities to their under-served inhabitants. Quartier des Pins was defined as a priority area for redevelopment in 2008 and in the following years, apartment blocks were refurbished and some were demolished to make way for a plaza and a new library. An architecture competition was held in 2011 and starting in 2014, the winning proposal by Jean-Pierre Lott was built. Designed with input from local residents, the library opened in 2016.
On the ground floor of the library, a transparent glass facade facing the plaza invites passersby to enter while the top floors are clad in a waving concrete facade that evokes a white curtain swaying in the breeze, a trademark of Lott’s recent projects.
This sense of transparency and openness carries to the interior, where spaces are arranged on a series of interconnected plateaus surrounding a high atrium. Activity rooms are playfully set in an egg-shaped orb hovering above the atrium or an an oversized cone piercing through multiple stories. Modularity drives both interior design and how library services are organized, with a focus on diversity of formats, communities and generations served.
The images above date from my visit in September 2021. For a better set of photographs, see Aldo Amoretti’s gallery on Archello.
- Kuniecki, S., & Philippe, A. (2022). Médiathèque La Passerelle, Vitrolles. CFRCB, Aix-Marseille Université.
- A Vitrolles, la médiathèque signe le renouveau du centre-ville. (2017). Chroniques d‘architecture.
- La Passerelle de Jean-Pierre Lott, nouveau centre de vie pour Vitrolles. (2017). AA: L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, 417.
- Vitrolles (Bouches-du-Rhône). (2023). In Wikipédia. Retrieved February 5, 2023
- Vitrolles—Une médiathèque et une nouvelle centralité urbaine. (n.d.). Ministère de la Culture. DRAC Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Politique et actions culturelles. Retrieved February 5, 2023
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!