The Richelieu library of the BnF is revealed



It is a titanic restoration project which is coming to an end, after more than ten years of work. Undertaken since 2010 for an amount of 260 million euros, the major restoration operation of the Richelieu site of the National Library of France (BnF), a vast quadrangle of 65,000 m2 located between Richelieu and Vivienne streets, in the 2e arrondissement of Paris, is coming to an end. The full reopening of the library to the public is scheduled for summer 2022. By then, 42 km of collections must be back on the shelves…

→ READ. Richelieu, a restored setting for the history of art

The institution celebrates this year the 300e anniversary of its installation on the Richelieu site. In 1721, Abbé Bignon, librarian to the king, decided to install the Royal Library in the Hôtel de Nevers, which then occupied part of the site. A few decades earlier, in 1666, Colbert had already installed the Royal Library on rue Vivienne. Over the centuries, it has never ceased to be deployed in the district, making up a heterogeneous, dense and complex whole, which the project which is now completed has undertaken to clarify.

Aeration of spaces

“We can say that there are three hundred years of architectural history here”, explains architect Bruno Gaudin, client. “This is the first time in the life of this site that a global work campaign has been carried out. For three centuries, it was a question of colonizing the whole islet, to enlarge, to demolish, to raise, to step over, to entangle… All the means were implemented to gain the precious square meters of storage. Until full saturation. “

The creation of the Tolbiac site, inaugurated in 1995, changed the situation, thanks to the relocation of numerous collections to the 13e arrondissement. The Richelieu site has been refocused around collections of history, art history and heritage. Going back three centuries of densification, the project by architects Virginie Brégal and Bruno Gaudin was able to ventilate the spaces. “We proceeded to subtractions, targeted and chosen recesses to create links, reinvent the distribution, open up perspectives, reveal hidden places”, they point out.

Access from the “garden” side

Among the notable innovations, a new access via rue Vivienne will offer a more welcoming “garden side” entrance than the Richelieu “street side” entrance, with its narrow sidewalk and noisy traffic. A 1,900 m garden2, entrusted to landscaper Gilles Clément, will see the light of day by the summer. Entitled “Hortus Papyrifera”, it will deploy species used in the development of writing and printing media.

→ VIDEO. Guided tour of the restored Richelieu library

Inside the buildings, all circulation has been redesigned, both vertically and horizontally, with the installation of numerous elevators that can serve up to 14 levels. A monumental staircase with openwork steps, in steel and aluminum plate, now constitutes the backbone of the site, and imprints an elegant contemporary gesture in this place of memory.

Areas revealed to the general public

In this project, a primordial part of the efforts will remain hardly perceptible to the eye of the visitor because the primary objective was to bring the entire building up to safety standards, in particular the 35 stores. Conversely, spaces hitherto closed or reserved only for researchers will be revealed to the general public.

The magnificent Oval room, one of the two most prestigious reading rooms along with the Labrouste room, will become a public reading room, accessible without registration. With a capacity of 200 people, with 150 seats, it will offer 20,000 books in free access.

Around this central room will gravitate a new museum which will present the exceptional collections of the BnF. They will be exhibited in prominent heritage spaces, notably the Louis XV salon, which has regained its original cream and gold decor, or the Mazarin gallery with its exuberant antique ceiling, signed by the Italian Romanelli (1610 -1662).

After the inauguration of the Hôtel de la marine, last June, and the Pinault collection at the Bourse du commerce, in May, it is a third place of culture that will open up in just over a year. an, near the transverse axis of the capital.

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