Sunday, May 6, 2012

The very large library

Francois Mitterrand cannot be criticized for thinking small. Quite the reverse, one might reasonably accuse him of having suffered a certain folie de grandeur. He certainly managed to leave a hefty architectural footprint on the city of Paris, thanks to the large number of so-called "Grands Projets" that were commissioned and executed during his term in office. These include the pyramid of the Louvre, the Opera Bastille, the Arche de la Defense, and the National Library of France that now bears his name.

Last week, our sortie pedagogique from school was a guided tour of the library. Completed in 1996 (something of a rush job, because Mitterrand wanted to see it completed before his death), it is widely regarded as perhaps the least successful of Mitterrand's "Grands Projets". Per Wikipedia:

"Construction of the library ran into huge cost overruns and technical difficulties related to its high-rise design, so much so that it is commonly referred to as the "TGB" or "Très Grande Bibliothèque" (i.e. "Very Large Library," a sarcastic allusion to France's successful high-speed rail system, the TGV)".

I would have to concur with those who maintain that it is a classic example of the kind of architectural folly that ignores function for the sake of form. The docent who guided our tour tried to be upbeat, maintaining that it was a place of pilgrimage for architects, a building not to be missed. When pressed on this point, he ruefully acknowledged that it was mainly so that they could learn to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. On the plus side, the little internal trolley system for moving books around was kind of charming. Almost everything else about the place sucked. But our docent was wonderful.

As were the amazing Coronelli globes:

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