I had mentioned that I studied architecture at the Beaux Arts , during President Francois Mitterrand’s first term from 1981 to 1988. He was then re-elected for a second presidential term and held office until 1995. Ok, now is the time when you wonder and ask what does it have to do with me ?Regardless of his political aspirations, Mitterrand had an architectural vision. The Grands Projets was an architectural program to provide modern monuments in Paris, the city of monuments, symbolizing France’s role in art, politics, and economy at the end of the 20th century. Mitterrand viewed the civic building projects, estimated at the time to cost the Government of France 15.7 billion francs, both as a revitalisation of the city, as well as contemporary architecture compatible with Socialist Party politics. The scale of the project and its ambitious nature was compared to the major building schemes of Louis XIV.
This grandiose plan, commencing in 1982, when I was a first year student in architecture, was termed as a “testament to political symbolism and process” launched in the post-World War II France, as an exercise in urban planning. The Grands Projets, described as “eight monumental building projects that in two decades transformed the city skyline”, included Louvre Pyramid, Musee d’Orsay, Parc de la Villette, Arab World Institute, Opéra Bastille, Grande Arche de La Défense, Ministry of Finance and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the last and most expensive of the lot.
I left France in 1988 so I never got the opportunity to visit the site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and because I was brought up in a house filled with books and going to the public library had always been a treat ( I know, I am very easily pleased) I always had the desire to visit the Bibliothèque Nationale or, as some call it, the Bibliothèque Mitterrand.
And by the way, his hand written note is the answer to my support for his involvement in architecture and urban design.With a free and open space, built to the scale of the capital, the BNF unfurls its breadth and its volume by way of its four beacon-like markers akin to tension rods or braces. The flat area between them, offering a verticality that defines a virtual volume, in turn, crystallizes all the magic, the presence and the poetry of the complex, designed by French architect, Dominique Perrault.Towers, case like structures of glass with a double skin and sun filters which multiply the reflections and highlights and magnify the shadows. The project is a piece of urban art, a minimalist installation, the “less is more” of emotion where objects and the materials of which they are made count for nothing without the lights which transcend them. Yes, indeed a grand and beautiful project.