"Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue… Its subtext is fuck context." – Rem Koolhaas

Conceptual drawing of the façade, 1989 © Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)

Techniques et architecture, October 1989, page 36-37. Left: © CCA, © Ateliers Jean Nouvel, right: © OMA, © Future Systems

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A super-library combining five national collections in one building, Paris’s National Library of France was the final Grands travaux of President François Mitterrand. Initially commissioned to house all French production of words, images, and sounds since 1945, its architectural competition captured the confusion and variety of architectural thinking in 1989.

OMA’s proposal was for a 100m tall cube aggressively placed on the banks of the Seine; a building that marks the beginning of the ‘big’ period and the shift from urbanism to conceptual formalism that Rem Koolhaas would retroactively name in his infamous remark on context.

The project begins from a distinction between book storage (solid) and public space (voids), and the logic of separation gives the building its structural form of a “solid cube of information” with specific voids, on top of a plinth.

The building was the first project where OMA used modelling computer software to produce images after the competition was over. Très Grande Bibliothèque (Very Big Library) includes these as well as the final anonymous presentation panels, two giant models whose epic construction will be live streamed from the Octagonal Gallery, and hundreds of working drawings showing design process moving through different media.

Across the hall, in our main galleries, James Stirling’s proposal for the National Library of France is included in James Frazer Stirling: Notes from the Archive. The vernissage for both exhibitions is 15 May, 2012.