With a fluid façade wrapping around the building like an unfurling ribbon, the Media Library [Third-Place] by Dominique Coulon & Associés has recently opened in the north east of France, close to the border with Luxemburg. It was urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg who first coined the notion of ‘third place’ in regards to public gathering spaces for modern society, as in somewhere to go that isn’t home (first place) or work (second place).

Admittedly, this is a simplified description and there are various fundamental conditions expected in order for a place to fall into this category but, for the moment, it is reasonable to consider that the typology of the library is one of those places. The firm uses the consideration of ‘third place’ as a combination of functions that are interwoven to create a hybrid, multifunctional programme. ‘We took our inspiration from the concept of a “third place” because we wanted to invent areas that related to both those of a public building and those that are found in the home,’ explains studio founder Dominique Coulon.

The library is a made up from a collection of smaller social spaces – referred to by the architect as ‘bubbles’ – which allow individual activities to take place either privately or in tandem. Each of these differs in height and scale, depending on the use, and contains specific elements of the programme, such as language laboratories, places for playing video games and story-telling areas.

‘The mixing of different functions and scales became the starting point for the bubbles, which create places where specific programmes are condensed,’ Coulon continues. The remainder of the building becomes the shared programme. ‘The project is, therefore, a work on the contrast between these two types of space: small spaces where it is possible to curl up comfortably and feel protected, and other more generously proportioned spaces.’

Contributing to the flowing nature of the structure, the interior layout is uncertain and without clear outlines – in short, it is relaxed. Structural columns are placed seemingly randomly throughout the building but, in fact, literally correspond to the demands of the programme. ‘The concept developed intuitively, based on a rational and economic basis. Columns are positioned where they need to be but without using a regular grid,’ Coulon explains. ‘The structural requirements are not the same throughout the building, so we felt it was more appropriate to play with these specific demands on an individual basis to provide a more fair reflection of what is needed and to benefit economy of scale.’

Organic, fluid forms are an unusual trait in the works of Dominique Coulon et Associés – a firm linked with a blunt and oblique signature style. However, it is also true that the ethos of the firm is to create a visual experience that distorts; buildings that can be enjoyed from different angles. In this way, the Media Library [Third-Place] project fits perfectly within the firm’s portfolio. The apparent disorder of the bubbles lends itself to the fluctuating curves of the façade. The rest of the form is dictated, in part, by the geometry of the site. The surrounding trees also play an important role in the format of the project, as they are perceived as an additional exterior layer; a buffer protecting the building from the street.

Plan – Site/Ground Floor

Location 1 Place André Malraux, Thionville, France