Beckmann-N’Thépé Build a Library from Muddy Cement

Beckmann-N'Thépé Marne-la-Valle

Beckmann-N'Thépé Marne-la-Valle

Beckmann-N'Thépé Marne-la-Valle

This week, folks in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving. The holiday is a time of reflection and appreciation, but most of us aren’t any good at that, so we’re doing what we do best: eating copious amounts of food and then shopping ourselves into misery and debt. This week, I thought I would share recent examples of buildings devoted to the decidedly loftier goals of education and civic engagement: libraries.

Built by Beckmann-N’Thépé, this is the library for the French University Marne-la-Vallée. The massive and muddy-looking concrete volume hovers above an area called the High House Farm, and you can see what appears to be a fragment of a moat near an entrance to the the library. Although the project is very real, the architects describe the project in terms more akin to fantasy than concrete, saying: “Between naturalism and terror, the Marne-la-Vallée Library puts us in touch with our dreams– active, joyous, sometimes disturbing, comforting, but always salutary.” Another word I’ve seen floating around to describe the project is convivial, which I will try to casually work into conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table between spoonfuls of mashed potatoes.

The only interior photos I can find show the winding, powder blue stairs. Any other insights into the quality of the interior space will have to be gleaned from renderings and plans.  A description that accompanies the renderings says that “calm and whiteness prevail” on the interior of the project, but what that might look like is as murky as the moat underneath the reading room. It’s a strange project, experimental in a way that, to me, resembles a monolith excavated from the site below. For now, students at Marne-la-Vallée are left to climb the blue stairs into the reading room and enjoy the calm whiteness that remains a fog for the rest of us stuck outside.

Alex Dent

November 19, 2012 / By