Sainte-Geneviève Library--page 1 (of two pages)

Henri Labrouste

An important building in architectural history because of its use of iron in the interior as a structural and decorative device.

(See the next page for the interior.) There had been a library here of the Abbaye Sainte-Geneviève since the 17th century and initially Labrouste was commissioned only to restore it; eventually, however, his building is completely new. Since the new version had to accommodate at least 600 students, Labrouste designed a two-story building with a vast reading room on the main floor.

While the interior is thoroughly modern, the exterior of this library recalls Italian Renaissance pallazi. Here the ground floor is relatively plain, while the second floor, the piano nobile, is more elaborate.


The ground floor

Swags form the minimal decoration and even window openings are fairly plain. The second story, the piano nobile, has an arcade, the lower portion of the windows being filled with masonry carved with the names of famous writers (because bookshelves are inside), while the upper arcade is glazed to provide light for the reading room. This pattern is typical of Italian Renaissance palaces although many have more than two stories.


Left: the arcade or main floor of the library; center: the entrance in the center of the building; the ground floor hallway leading to the stairway


The hallway leading to the Reading Room with a sculptured portrait of the architect


Continue to page 2 for the fabulous reading room


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© 2018 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.