Old meets new at Médiathèque André Malraux

Médiathèque André Malraux is the main public library in Strasbourg. Like Lyon Public Library, it is part of France’s network of municipal libraries which were modernised in the 1970s and 1980s, opening up to the community and throwing off their previous image as staid guardians of old books. Some changed their name to ‘mediathèque’ to reflect their expanded role in providing access to a range of media including music, film and (later) digital content.

Located on a former river dock, the Médiathèque Malraux looks like a modern building inside and out, but it’s actually a redeveloped silo with a new extension. The library opened in 2008. Director Arsène Ott and staff members Marc, Daisy and Priscilla kindly showed us around the library.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The entry has a full-height atrium rising up through the building’s six floors. You can see the stripes in the concrete created by silo’s original wooden formwork.

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Throughout the building, the architect retained the exposed concrete and added bright tangerine paint and typography on the walls and floor. The effect is striking.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The same colour is used throughout the building, lending coherence but making it a little hard to remember where you are. To help differentiate between spaces, different typefaces are used for signage on floors and walls in each level.

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A stairway zig-zags up the centre of the building. With gridded metal treads and mirrored walls, the effect is a bit mind-boggling.

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The painted bands of colour continue over the floors and up onto the shelves. A nice visual feature – though our hosts noted that the shelves can’t be moved without messing up the design.

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The view from the upstairs study room of the old cranes and new beach in the redeveloped dock precinct:

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The children’s section is basically the same as the adult area (same flooring, same shelves), but with smaller versions of the adult furniture. The DVD-viewing screens were popular on the day we visited.

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In a separate area is an intriguing special collection. The library in Strasbourg is part of a network of 13 branches. At some point it became apparent that over the years, when children’s books were weeded, the librarians were hanging onto the books they could not bear to dispose of. These have now been brought together into an idiosyncratic collection that can be enjoyed by children on site.

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In an adjacent area was a temporary exhibition of gorgeous original illustrations by Roberto Innocenti. Book illustration (for both adults and children) is a collection focus.

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Like other French municipal libraries, Strasbourg’s has a significant heritage collection, including around 350 incunabula (pre-1500 printed works). This collection has been assembled after the total destruction of the municipal library in 1870.

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Finally, I have to share these wonderful posters promoting the different faces of the library and bringing together old and new.

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