In 1988 the French government announced its ambition for the construction of one of the largest and most modern libraries in the world regrouping several existing institutions on one site. The new library was intended to cover all fields of knowledge and was to be accessible to the public. In July 1989 an international jury chaired by I.M. Pei selected four architectural projects and proposed the project by Dominique Perrault for realization. The choice was then confirmed by President Francois Mitterand.Construction started in March 1992, the building was completed in 1995 and opened to the public on 20 December 1996.
The library consists of four 25-story glass towers and two levels of reading rooms which surround a garden of over one hectare located below. Book stores are located partly in the basement, close to the reading rooms, and partly in the upper floors of the towers. The four corner towers resemble four open books, all facing one another. They aim to define a symbolic place which imposes the library's presence and identity on the urban landmarks developed and enhance the idea of the "book". The public space offers a direct and natural physical contact between the sacred institution and the person in the street. The inclusion of a sunken garden rounds off the and bother of the city. Like a cloister, this tranquil, unruffled space invites contemplation and a flowering of intellectual endeavor.
Walking toward the building along the Seine, one is first presented with an overscaled stair made of wood. Having arrived on the wide wooden platform which encompasses the complex, one can get a glimpse of the central sunken garden whose largest tree tops are visible on the platform. Wooden screens which protect the books inside the four book towers provide texture and scale even if the need for screens has brought into question the original idea of storing books in transparent glass towers. Inside, a simple palate of red carpet, wood, and steel are combined to achieve a sense of cohesion and individuality.
The library was one of the first structures to be built for a newly developed quarter called Paris Rive Gauche which now houses a business center, retail facilities a film library and university buildings.