Trs Grande Bibliothque at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents Très Grande Bibliothèque (Very Big Library), on view in the museum’s Octagonal Gallery from May 15 until September 9, 2012. The exhibition, curated by Rem Koolhaas and Clément Blanchet of OMA, presents materials produced by OMA in response to an international competition launched in 1989 by France’s then president, François Mitterrand, to design the new Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Conceived as a super-library that would combine national collections in one building, Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France was the last of the ‘’Grands travaux’’ of the architectural program initiated by Mitterrand in 1981. The project sought to bring together the production of sound, image, and printed archives dating back to 1945. This vast project included five entities: a public consultation space for audio and video archives, a space for recent acquisitions, a study library, a catalogue library, and a scientific research library that would also integrate information systems for consulting remote documents. The building is located on the east side of Paris in an abandoned industrial zone along the banks of the Seine and across from the Ministry of Finance and the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.

The proposal from OMA – the Rotterdam based architectural firm founded and led by the Dutch architect and Pritzker Prize winner, Rem Koolhaas – proposed a 100-metre-tall cube to be imposed on the banks of the Seine. The concept of the OMA proposal resided in the notion of the library spaces being excavated as voids from a “solid cube” containing the archives. This concept offered great architectural freedom, with the public spaces (or voids) being liberated from the constraints of a pre-determined form or structure.

OMA’s team includes Rem Koolhaas, Art Zaayer, Xaveer de Geyter, Georges Heintz, Heike Lohmann, Alex Wall, Christopher Cornubert and Yushi Uehara, Petra Blaisse, Marja van der Burgh, in collaboration with the landscape architect Yves Brunier, Cecil Balmond from Ove Arup & Partners, and the model-makers Frans Parthesius, Vincent de Rijk and Bart Guldemond.

The architectural competition launched by Mitterrand captured the diversity of architectural practices in 1989. This included a finalist proposal by British Architect and fellow Pritzker Prize winner James Stirling, and the subject of the CCA’s 2012 Main Galleries exhibition, Notes from the Archive: James Frazer Stirling.

The international competition began with a first call for bidders, entered by 240 teams. The jury, led by the architect I. M. Pei, creator of the Louvre Pyramid, selected 20 teams to develop detailed proposals a project within a few months. Of the shortlisted teams, four proposals were presented to François Mitterrand, who ultimately selected Dominique Perrault’s project as the winner. The jury did not select the project by OMA, finding it too abstract and decontextualized. The OMA proposal received an honourable mention from the jury, opening it up for public consideration. A few years later, the proposal garnered more sustained attention with its inclusion in the OMA publication, S,M,L,XL in 1995. The scheme was also key to Koolhaas’s essay on “bigness,” which analyzes how the gigantic scale of certain contemporary buildings disrupts relationships between program, façade and context, countering the unity of form and function sought by Modernist architecture.

This exhibition presents material from the competition entry by OMA led by Rem Koolhaas. Drawings, diagrams and conceptual sketches reveal a design process. Through the use of early 3D software, digital renderings explored the manipulation of the five interior volumes. Two plaster models, created several years later, render the Very Big Library in positive and negative. While the first model shows the mass of the building and façades, the second materializes the interior voids, revealing its spatial complexity.

Rem Koolhaas founded OMA in 1975 together with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp. He graduated from the Architectural Association in London and in 1978 published Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. In 1995, his book S,M,L,XL summarized the work of OMA in “a novel about architecture.” He heads the work of both OMA and AMO, the research branch of OMA, operating in areas beyond the realm of architecture such as media, politics, renewable energy and fashion. Koolhaas has won several international awards including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2010 Venice Biennale. He is a professor at Harvard University where he conducts the Project on the City.

Clément Blanchet is a French architect, teacher and critic, actively practicing in the fields of architectural theory, urbanism, and cultural investigations. In 2011, he was appointed Director of OMA AMO France. He co-authored “Memorandum La Defense” with Rem Koolhaas, a manifesto about OMA’s French projects so far. Blanchet is a graduate of the Architectural school of Versailles, and currently teaches at the University of Copenhagen.

For more information about the exhibition, please visit