Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), François Mitterrand

In much the same way that Parisians in the early 90’s either loved or hated the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, Parisians today either love or hate the new BNF François Mitterrand. To its fans, it’s an inspiring modernist model of high-tech efficiency modeled on the form of an open book. To its detractors, it’s “at best a carefully constructed void, and at worst a notoriously expensive project that ‘designs out’ not only people, but books.”

And while the BNF is not the most inviting of monuments, the cultural and artistic exhibits hosted by the BNF are often of the very highest caliber; the teak promenade in the courtyard can be a magical place to stroll; and what to make of all those caged gardens? Consider spending a few hours at the BNF; then form your own opinions. Be sure that you can articulate them in interesting ways at an upcoming gathering with French friends. You should also expect your friends—regardless of what they actually think—to take the counter-position pour le plaisir de discuter.

Directions: The shortest path to the BNF from the Chicago Center is northwest on quai Panhard et Levassor (which becomes Quai François Mauriac north of Rue Neuve Tolbiac). This direct route is about a 5-minute walk. To enjoy a more dramatic entrance to the BNF, consider taking the time to cross the Seine at the Tolbiac bridge, walk northwest through the Parc de Bercy, and then cross again just downstream at the new Simone de Beauvoir pedestrian bridge.