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From Paris to Buenos Aires: Discover the Most Beautiful Libraries from Around the World

Alex Chams By Alex Chams Published on June 9, 2017

Thibaud Poirier is a cosmopolitan Parisian with a passion for architecture which he expresses in his photography. He recently completed a series on libraries in different cities in Europe and in Argentina. His inspiration for the series was a quote from Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller: "Reading is solitude". Libraries are communal places, where the experience is a solitary one. Poirier answered a few questions for Bookwitty about his library series:

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El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, 1919

Have you always liked libraries?

Not really, I wasn't much of a reader as a kid. However in this time of online knowledge, easily and constantly available, I find that libraries still have a lot to offer in terms of depth and enlightenment. And it's shown by the attendance of these libraries, which are usually full. It obviously doesn't show on these images, because I choose to empty the spaces I photograph for aesthetic reasons, but libraries are more relevant than ever.

What drew you to the ones you photographed, did you actually use these libraries?

I usually choose the spaces for architectural and aesthetic reasons. I wanted to show how a space with a similar function could be interpreted so differently geographically and across centuries. Unfortunately no, I did not use these libraries, but being alone in these spaces for a short moment gives me a glimpse of the history and the knowledge they have to share.

What was similar and dissimilar about the different libraries?

I like spacious interiors so the libraries were selected with that in mind. The use of light, natural or artificial, is always interesting as it's very important to have a bright space to read in without damaging the books with harsh light. Most of these were built before electricity so natural light was an important factor in building the libraries. It's also interesting to see how some libraries are considered as spaces to study, with tables and chairs, and others look more like book temples. 

What have the modern libraries integrated into their architecture that the older ones did not have?

Modern libraries have integrated more artificial light thanks to new lighting technology. Their design is usually simpler, bare of any ornaments, and more centered around the flow and use of the space. However books are always the central focus of the space.

In which cities did you grow up?

I've lived in Paris, Tokyo, Montréal and Buenos Aires to name a few. I've been a Parisian for the last few years and I now call it my home. Living in the variety of urban environments has shaped my passion for architecture. My work today is centered around cityscapes and architectural photography.

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Grimm Zentrum Library, Berlin, 2009

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Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne, Salle Jacqueline de Romilly, Paris, 1897

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Bibliothèque de l'Hotel de Ville de Paris, Paris, 1890

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Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Salle Labrouste, Paris, 1868

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Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1850

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Palàcio Nacional de Mafra, Mafra, 1755

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Trinity College Library, Dublin, 1732
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Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, 1701


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