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Bibliothèque Nationale François Mitterand
12 quai Panhard-Levassor
Paris 13e

The newest of the Grands Projets (Mitterrand’s 15 billion franc program to provide a series of modern monuments to symbolize France’s central role in art, politics, and world economy at the end of the twentieth century) is also the largest. But, for its size, it is also remarkable for the attention paid to its smaller, human-scaled details. The architect has taken a reductively simple overall plan—four 25-story L-shaped towers of books (symbolizing open books) arranged at the corners of a giant platform around a sunken garden—and used repetition necessary in even a much smaller building to great effect. The result is a deceptively ordinary building that is actually quite exceptional.

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Walking toward the building along the Seine, one is first presented with an overscaled stair, similar to the one at the base of the Grande Arche. The first step on this stair, leading to the top of a giant plinth on which the four towers sit, reveals the first of many pleasant surprises: its material, which looks so solid and cold from a distance, is wood. Indeed, a building whose primary materials are glass and steel manages to be remembered by its rich wood and luxurious red carpet.

Outside, the wood decking of the platform and the wooden screens protecting the books inside the four book towers provide texture and scale on what would otherwise be a forbidding building-scape (even if the need for screens has brought into question the original idea of storing books in transparent glass towers). Inside, a simple palate of red carpet, wood, and steel are combined in enough ways to lend a sense of cohesion and individuality to a large number of reading rooms arranged around the central sunken garden.

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Jay Berman 1999


How to visit

Take the RER to the Library's own station, Bibliothèque François Mitterand. 

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


3791316788_m.gif (14084 bytes) Paris: Contemporary Architecture
Andrea Gleiniger, Gerhard Matzig and Sebastian Redecke

A readable and particularly well illustrated description of 20 recent archiectural projects in Paris, including but not limited to the Grands Projets. Includes a map for visiting them.


Opening times and other visitor information are in English on the library's web site at

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