As an edition to the developing urban project in eastern Paris, the French National Library was built in hopes to be the most modern library in the world. The competition of 1989 that included projects from 244 internationally renowned architects was won by Dominique Perrault, who was only 36 years old. This project would be the defining design of Perrault‘s career.
Read more about the history of the National Library of France after the break.
Specifically designed for it’s location in the Siene Rive Gauche district, the basic concept is composed of four tall towers that define the boundaries of an esplanade, which is hollowed out of the ground to create a vast forest-garden. The four beacon-like markers with an area measuring up to 350,000 m2 were constructed on a stretch of industrial wasteland, each one comprised of wood, metal, concrete and glass.
They were designed to resemble four open books all open towards one another, to imply a volume and symbolic space. The establishment of the open square gives the notion of accessibility and availability, inviting the public to enjoy the square. It’s semi-industrial approach is obvious at every scale, particularly with the use of stainless steel. Different meshes of the steel are woven into panels to be used as coverings for walls and ceilings, as well as partitions and outdoor plantrooms. The monumental towers are draped in stainless steel, by the application of five meter high panels that are tiled to create the surfaces.
This use of mesh is present on all levels of the building; in the research rooms, the technical ducts are hidden under a ceiling of mesh, which also serves to control the acoustics. In the reading rooms, a similar technique is used more decoratively, creating a wave-like effect across the ceiling. The conference room uses the meshes as stage curtains, the stainless steel falling in folds from the ceiling.
An interesting but less obvious aspect of the design is the lack of complete visibility from one side of a large open space to the other. Perrault thoughtfully places shutters, visual screens, grills and meshes, which add intimacy and privacy to different reading spaces. The grid is prevalent in the design, found in the lighting masts of the reading rooms, ceiling-mounted lights, and sheathed in braided stainless steel.
The wire mesh and incorporation of stainless steel mark the extent of the decoration; the project was to give importance to the urban environment and materials. Books fill all the shelves, with more than ten million volumes.