The BnF

The François-Mitterrand Library

The François-Mitterrand Library © Éric Sempé / BnF
The François-Mitterrand Library opened to the public in 1996 because the Bibliothèque nationale needed to be extended and modernized. The building was the first example of minimalist tendency, on such a scale, in the field of contemporary architecture. For the first time, woven metal was used for the inside decoration of a building.The library’s main features are its four angular towers illustrating fours open books.

The collections

  • Alphabet illustré des objets familiers. Épinal, Ch. Pinot,1873 (click for enlarge)
  • Le Petit journal illustré (Paris. 1920). January the 22th, 1933 issue (click for enlarge)
  • Offices ou pratiques de dévotion. Paris : Claude Dehansy, 1706. Cream-coloured binding with a mosaic scenery (orinentalising composition), Paris, workshop of Louis-François Le Monnier, towards 1750 (click for enlarge)
  • Central label on the 33 rpm record 'L'apothéose de Lully' by François Couperin performed by the orchestre de l'Oiseau-lyre, conducted by Roger Désormière. L'Oiseau-lyre OLLD1, 1949 (click for enlarge)

    Click on images for a larger view

The François-Miterrand library’s reading rooms provide access to the collections of printed and audiovisual documents. They are organized on two levels around a garden of over one hectare:

  • The Research Library (Rez-de-jardin level), which entrance is limited to accredited users, allows to consult the heritage collections.
  • The Reference Library (Haut-de-jardin level) is open to anyone over 16 with a valid reader’s card. Reference collections in all fields of knowledge are available.

The architecture

  • The François-Mitterrand Library facing the Seine river © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • West entrance © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • View of the platform from the top of a tower © Éric Sempé / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • Reference Library's reading room © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • Reference Library's reading room © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • Escalator linking up the Reference Library (Haut-dejardin level) and the Research Library (Rez-de-jardin level) © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • Research Library's reading room © Alain Goustard / BnF(click for enlarge)
  • Automated transport of documents © BnF(click for enlarge)

    Click on images for a larger view

The building created by architect Dominique Perrault was selected at the end of an international competition organized in 1989.
The library areas are distributed around a large horizontal platform, with four angular towers that house seven floors of offices protected by movable wooden shutters and eleven floors of closed stacks.
Facing the Seine river, flights of steps provide access to the platform covered with a hard and rotproof kind of wood, the Ipe wood to be found in Brazil.

The stacks are located partly in the base, close to the reading rooms, and partly in the upper levels of towers. A eight-kilometer network using 330 suspended trolleys allows to transport documents from the stacks to the reading rooms of the Research Library.


The main features of the building’s architecture are as follows: symmetry, light, balance, monumentality. The architect has decided to use glass, steel and wood rather than other materials.

The inside decoration tempers the austerity of the building seen from the outside: surfaces made of fine-grained concrete playing with light, flexible and shimmering mesh in stainless steel replacing walls and false ceilings, red-coloured (Terre d’Afrique) carpets, exotic wood furniture of the reading rooms.

All elements of furniture created by the architect – tables, stacks, ergonomic chairs or fibre-optic lamps – provide readers with a feeling of calmness favourable to intellectual work.

The district

From Bercy gardens to the BnF using the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge

From Bercy gardens to the BnF using the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge

Using the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge to go from the Bercy gardens to the BnF The François-Mitterrand Library is located in the recently constructed area (Paris Rive gauche) of the 13th district. It is sometimes called the ‘new Latin Quarter’ because of its numerous university and cultural institutions including the Université Paris-Diderot, the Inalco, the École nationale supérieure d’architecture Paris-Val de Seine, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales…

Monday, April 18, 2016

Key figures

  • A one-hectare garden
  • A 60 000 square-metre platform
  • 80 metre-high towers with 22 floors
  • Reading rooms distributed over 54 000 square metres
  • Stacks distributed over 57 000 square metres
  • 400 linear kilometers of stacks

See also