Friday, January 09, 2009

Entering the Bibliothéque et Archives Nationale, Montreal, QC: 10:32 a.m.


I cannot remember being inside a library as thrilling as the one I am currently in. The Grande Bilbiothéque du Québec, by Patkau / Croft Pelletier / Menkés Shooner Dagenais Architectes Associés, is an extraordinary space.



From the Berri-UQAM subway stop, you enter a series of revolving doors, go up narrow escalator, and enter the main hall of the library. On the right, metal bars grace a curtain wall frosted with alternating bands of diaphanous glass (the image above is taken from the opposite end of the hall). In between its vertical supports are some x-shaped braces -- a move not unlike the giant "x" motif along the side of James Stirling's Community Center at Newton Aycliffe, his 1950 thesis project from the University of Liverpool School of Architecture ...

And slightly to the right of the curtain wall, are a series of giant ferroconcrete pillars that seem to stretch endlessly into the ceiling. And as your eyes travel down the pillar, and trace imaginary lines of site along the pristine whitened floors (indeed ... a clean, well-lighted place), you see on the left, bordering the main hall, a system of maple blinds that grace the individual floors of the library. It is almost impossible to discern the individual floors within the building, but the blinds complement the banded glass on the opposite side of the hall. When light enters, the two act as a series of coordinating brises-soleil that amplify, yet mute the light that enters the hall.

I walk through the security entrance into the reference area, and there, you can see the figural viscera of the space. Here, it is a bit darker, but you can see the series of stairs that criss-cross up and down, amplifying the "X" bracings on the far side of the grande salon. There is also an elevator, with all its tracks, pulleys and levers exposed to the world. Bear with me for a second, but consider the ironclad logic of the Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel ... a series of connected, orthogonal shapes that extend upwards, outwards into an immeasurable infinity. Here, the logic of the Grande Bilbiothéque du Québec is literally circumscribed by its boxy envelope or dangerously obvious partí. The collection and circulation spaces seem to suggest an interlocking series of boxes, each new square formed by the junction creating a different space in itself.



But, back in the Grande Salon, if you pretend you are rewinding, walking backwards in time and space through the double filtered space, in a volume where a diffuse light creates something approximating Paul Scheerbart's manic alpine visions, and say, for a second, that you are headed back underground, towards the labyrinthine ducts and tunnels of the Berri-UQAM .. there, on your right, looking through the maple louvers ...a sculpture towers, reaching into the air. This is Espace Fractal by Jean-Pierre Morin -- a extruded rhomboid shape that meets in a series of polished aluminum pipes that sprawl like the impossible tangle of a Gorgon's head.

[Author's Note: I wrote this brief piece while in Montreal in 2006. It was originally published on Archinect on November 21, 2006]

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice. It's a shame Quebeckers don't read much however! They have by far the lowest library usage in Canada.

mike roman said...

poetic commentary, though the last picture makes it look like a bookshop. how on earth do you get silence with all that openness between floors?
or am i being too demanding here expecting a library to be a tranquil place of biblio-meditation?

enrique said...

Ahh, that's a good point. I do remember it being noisy outside the stacks .... but it was quiet within.

NP said...

Interesting little article, Enrique. However, the Bibliothèque had some structural problems -- ice kept falling off the roof and some slats fell, making it dangerous for people to circulate near the outside walls. I hope it's been fixed since I left Montreal. Nevertheless, I agree it's a lovely place to study, especially the more closed off areas, where you can't hear the constant beeping sounds of the borrowing computers...!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: Your commentary is out of topic and pitiful. I don't think it's correct to mention that people in Québec don't read as much as other Canadians. Maybe they just don't read the same s***? ;-) FYI, there are 4 local daily newspapers in Montréal for around 4-million population, proportionaly more than in any other north-American city. Get out of anonymity and quote your sources (preferably not canadian-propagandist ones), you'll be more credible. Salut!

Vincent Yip said...

Hi, just wondering how did you manage to take those pictures? cause I was just there today and from what I know you're not allowed to take pictures inside.

enrique said...

Vincent .... these are not my pictures. I got some of them from books and others from websites. I wrote this a long time ago, so I will have to engage in some detective work in order to find out where exactly I got these images. Stay tuned!