Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

National Library of France Competition

Paris, France


This project for a new French national library is related to the city by a megascale achieved through a number of guiding principles. First, a vertical office tower proclaims the presence and position of the library through the long vistas that are a traditional part of the Parisian skyline. Second, the building directly relates to the river by footbridges to the Parc de Bercy on the opposite bank. Finally, it establishes a visual connection to the historic center through a panoramic window in the principal research library.

Conceived for a limited site facing north onto the Seine, this design followed the competition conditions by breaking the overall building form into the seven parts: entrance/exhibition space, restaurant/ colloquium space, film and music library, recent acquisitions, main reading room, research library, and administration tower.

The main pedestrian approaches were perceived from three main directions: from the RER station to the southeast; from the metro station on the Boulevard Vincent Auriol two blocks to the west; and from the footbridges leading to Parc de Bercy. Primary to the organization of this vast complex was the positioning of the entire book storage and processing facility in a two-story podium between the  flood plain and the podium plaza. Thus, in approaching from the west and south, the public enters over the collection itself.  Books circulate from this memory bank along a series of north-south axes to the reading room and the six-story main library stack parallel to the river.

The main entrance hall at the east end includes a large exhibition hall/foyer flanked by shops to the south and a children’s library to the east. Below, immediately to the south, is a top-lit podium area for a restaurant and meeting facilities. In the middle of the entry area is a cone-shaped elevator tower that provides controlled entry to the library. From here, bridges connect to the recent-acquisitions area, where books are accommodated on orthogonal “trays” suspended within the outer cylindrical form of the library, and to the music and film libraries.

One of the primary considerations of this parti was the creation of a monumental reading room facing the Seine. As in Henri Labroustes’s Bibliothèque Nationale of 1868, this room was conceived as a kind of internal gathering space under a tented roof. Here the nomadic metaphor translates into a fully glazed double roof sustained by a 10-meter truss tapered to assume an aerofoil section. This roof not only functions as a multiple light source, flooding the interior during the day and glowing outwardly at night with artificial light, but it also doubles as an insulating void that can be freely ventilated in hot weather and hermetically closed in winter to provide a blanket of warm air above the reading room.

Organized by the golden section, this building is a tour de force in reticulated form with multiple light filters in every plan. In many instances these lightweight, thick walls are filled with passerelles and platforms holding some of the many carrels distributed throughout. These slots represent “inhabited” filters that are as much activated by human movement as they are by changes in the patterns of natural light.

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