The Carnegie Library in Reims is an undeniable Art Deco dream. But it's also very easy to get lost. Situated across the square from Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, the building outshines its neighbor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has traditionally served as the coronation site of French kings. During World War I, the church was also known as a hideout, with a large Red Cross flag marking the structure as a military target. Perhaps it's fitting, or at least poetic, that the library was built on the side after World War I to provide another sanctuary, making it a surprise entry in The Daily Beast's "The Greatest Libraries , Beautiful in the World " series.
Today, Reims is a city of about 180,000 people and is the unofficial capital of the Champagne region; that is, a large number of visitors are likely to visit this region, experiencing its charm, even if it seems strange. . But after the First World War, the city looked significantly different. Thanks to the German occupation, Reims survived all the horrors of the war, including loss of life, disruption of work and extensive structural damage to more than 60% of its buildings.
Enter Andrew Carnegie.
It seems rare for a Scottish-American philanthropist to be involved in such post-war efforts, or for his donation to take the form of such specific infrastructure. However, like almost all buildings, the existing library is badly damaged. And Carnegie was partly dedicated to giving, which allowed people to help themselves. The boy also loved libraries, having built over 1,689 of them throughout the United States, and spoke of them with the same respect as romantic couples.
“There is no better cradle of democracy on earth than a free public library,” he once declared. "This is a literary republic, where neither rank, nor position, nor wealth is given the slightest attention."
So, along with two other front-line cities: Leuven (Belgium) and Belgrade (Serbia), Reims received 200 thousand dollars from the Carnegie Endowment for restoration.
In 2022, it will cost approximately $3,931,231.79. But although most of their collection was destroyed in the bombardment of the town hall, the organization managed to collect a significant amount of francs. To create a new permanent home, they turned to local architect Max Sensollier, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He graduated from the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Reims and was well versed in ornate neo-Gothic architecture. He first sought inspiration in Swiss and Belgian libraries. However, over time, he settled on Art Deco as a style that was considered more modern.
The 44,000 square meter building was opened to the public on June 10, 1928, in the presence of the President of France, and is smaller than most major libraries in the region. (Building area compared to 624,307 square meters of the National Library in Paris). However, a lot of attention has been paid to the decorations and it is still one of the most beautiful places in the world where you can stop reading a book. And thanks to a 2005 restoration by architects Jacques Bléaud and Jean-Louis Ruber, the experience of walking through the library has not changed much, except for some necessary changes to ensure greater accessibility and air conditioning.
The Carnegie Library has all the hallmarks of a modern temple, with exterior columns and siding by Schwartz-Hamont (a company that won a gold medal at the 1925 Paris Art Deco Exposition). (It even has a "Library" sign, stylized enough to make Wes Anderson cry, just to show how the aesthetic gets old). Access includes climbing a short staircase to "ascend to knowledge" and passing under a helmet carved by sculptor Edward Sedley. , it says: "Educunt fructum folia" or "flowers bear fruit." (You can imagine Andrew Carnegie's delight at all this grandiose symbolism.)
Likewise, the lobby is dazzling with an eerie seriousness that is torn between an art gallery and detective agency ads. Behind the public area is a semi-circular vault of 400,000 books spread over five floors. But here, in the public realm, there is room for additional frills, such as the elegant stained glass window of Jacques Simon and the fountain of green marble and onyx, a symbolic reminder, not "science and the source of all science." onyx of knowledge.
The library prioritizes function without sacrificing form. What are the 16th and 18th centuries for? If you can't find 100,000 books printed between the ages (including 8,000 that are considered extremely rare)? Dark wood shelving, a nine-row cartographic catalog, and floor-to-ceiling floors in reading rooms and "study rooms" are design elements we've come to think of as hallmarks of higher education spaces. But even the most "modest" reading rooms are surrounded by round glass windows flooded with natural light. (Draw your own symbols here.)
In 1983, the Reims Carnegie Library was declared a Historic Landmark. It remained the main library of Reims until 2003. Today it is just one of seven passages through the entire city. (Although this is probably more aesthetically pleasing.) Some of Carnegie's remarks still seem overly poetic. (“The library transcends anything a community can do for its people,” he says. “It's an inexhaustible source in the desert.”) However, the success story of Reims, who has regained his idealism, proves otherwise. . Whatever you are, equality and knowledge are a wonderful combination.
Read more in The Daily Beast.