National Library of France Completely Transformed After a 15 Year Renovation

Oval Room at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

After 15 years, Bruno Gaudin Architectes has completed work on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF). The massive undertaking saw the firm touch every part of this national archive, which is spread across two sites: the Richelieu and François-Mitterrand. Tackled in two phases, the first of which was completed in 2016, the fulfillment of the project has revolutionized the library for both its employees and the public.

“After 15 years of work, we have returned a building that has been profoundly transformed to meet the contemporary challenges of welcoming the public, opening it up to the city, and sharing and exchanging with the younger generations,” shares Bruno Gaudin. “Yesterday, closed in on itself, the large, magnificent, worn, fragmented, dark, and dilapidated treasure chest has now been given a new identity, full of light.”

Perhaps the most dramatic public transformation occurred in phase one when the Oval Room was completely restored and refurbished. This iconic reading room, located on the Richelieu site, was originally designed in the late 19th century. While keeping the space tied to its historic routes, the firm updated the outdated lighting and installed multimedia seating for visitors to enjoy all aspects of the collection.

Staircase at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

But while some spaces—like book stacks and staff areas—were completely renovated, other areas were created. This includes the Vivienne Garden, a new outdoor space located at what was once the back of three adjoining buildings. Now, an entrance to the library has been carved out, creating an opportunity to bring a modern touch to the historic space.

“While the historic mineral and closed courtyard of honor respects the tradition of the silence necessary for research, the design of this new entrance, with its planted threshold open to the city, reflects the institution’s desire to invite everyone to discover its world, both a research library and a museum presenting its treasures. Between the courtyard and the garden, the crossing hall symbolizes this link between the world of researchers and the new public.”

By blending with historic architecture and seeking out opportunities for innovation, Bruno Gaudin Architects has given a masterclass on how to thoughtfully work on such an important, monumental space.

Bruno Gaudin Architectes spent 15 years renovating France's National Library.

Salle Labrouste at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

© Marchand Meffre/Atelier Bruno Gaudin Architectes

Museum’s entrance to the east in the Hall of Columns at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Glass Gallery Linking Quadrilatère Richlieu

Oval Room at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

They transformed the sprawling, outdated space into a functional national archive.

Performing Arts Reading Room at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Book Stack at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Labrouste vestibule at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The two-phase project had a total cost of more than $256 million.

The glass gallery to the Performing Arts Department on the West Bank

© Marchand Meffre/Atelier Bruno Gaudin Architectes

Staircase at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Oval Room at Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Bruno Gaudin Architectes: Website 

All images @ Takuji Shimmura/Atelier Bruno Gaudin Architectes except where noted. My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Bruno Gaudin Architectes.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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