Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Dominique Perrault explains its grand place in the City of Lights:
A Place Not a Building
The grands projects of President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, are all closely associated with a site and history; in short, a place with a name.
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is built on a stretch of industrial wasteland on the banks of the Seine in the East End of Paris. It represents the starting point of a complete restructuring of this entire sector of the 13th arrondissement. The institution encompasses within it elements of grandeur and generosity.
If we refer to the urban history of the great monuments that have been fundamental to the city's thrust toward new territory, the greatest gift possible to a city like Paris today is space a place that is open, free, and stirring. Accordingly, the enormous building, envisioned as a demonstration of architectural emphasis and affectation, is transformed into an absolute luxury, adding to the history of France a focus on immateriality and non ostentation. It is this context that engendered the concept of the project.
A Square for Paris, A Library for France
The library is an initiatory place and not some monster of a building, part temple and part supermarket-a place of reference for the East End of Paris. It is a place that is part and parcel of the continuity of the sequence of large empty spaces along the Seine, like the Place de la Concorde, the Champ de Mars, and the Invalides. In he same way, the site beside the Seine becomes one of major importance.
In an operation designed to save and redeem the place, the institution introduces its generosity and contributes its influence and radiance. With this combination of a free open space, built to the scale of the capital, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France unfurls its breadth and volume by way of its four beacon like markers. Akin to tension rods or braces for the flat area between them, they offer a verticality that defines a virtual volume which, in turn, crystallizes all the magic, presence, and poetry of the complex.
A Symbolic Place
The four corner towers resembling four open books, all facing one another, define a symbolic place, a mythical place, and impose the library's presence and identity on the urban landmarks develop and enhance the idea of the "book". The towers present themselves like an accumulation of learning, of knowledge that is never complete, and of a slow but ongoing process of sedimentation.
Other complementary metaphors vast racks with countless shelves, or vertical labyrinths. All these unambiguous images converge into a powerful identity for these architectural objects. The establishment of an open square underpins the notion of availability, as applied to treasure. And it is the towers that situate and identify this treasure as cultural.
The public space offers a direct and natural physical contact between the sacred institution and the person in the street. The inclusion of a sunken garden rounds off the and bother of the city. Like a cloister, this tranquil, unruffled space invites contemplation and a flowering of intellectual endeavor.
A Magic Place
This project is a piece of art, a minimalist installation, the "less is more" of emotion where objects and materials count for nothing without the light which transcends them. The glass towers multiply the reflections and magnify the shadows, like crystalline prisms creating the absolute magic of diffraction.
Night vision: the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is set in a halo of light emanating from the garden and the service periphery. A diaphanous light rises up through the interiors of the glass towers, culminating in the four topmost points, which shimmer like lighthouse beacons. This liquid spreads over the square, while the towers are reflected in the Seine.
An Urban Place
What could be more urban and more public than a pedestrian square? The challenge of creating a void preserves the future of the district, while at the same time steers its development, offering conspicuous architectural requirements such as can be learned from the great squares of Paris.
A square is a space that is lined or hemmed; a system of structures combining porches, covered walks, and a cornice height forming a skyline. It accommodates diverse and varied architectural scripts, the sole rule being their shared role of accompanying, in their own right, the institution's urban influence.
Facts about Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Perrault Associés S.A.,
Séchaud Bossuyt, H.G.M. Guy Huguet S.A., Syseca, Technip Seri Construction, Pieffet, Corbin Tomasina, A.C.V, Sauveterre
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France won the Mies Van der Rohe European Prize of Architecture 1997.
Ministry of Culture
Department for Public Buildings
Last updated: December 19, 2013