Caen Library
Image courtesy OMA
OMA has won a competition to design a regional library in the northwestern city of Caen.

After years of “sending love letters to France,” OMA has won a competition to design a regional library in the northwestern city of Caen, says associate in charge Clément Blanchet. It will be the firm’s first cultural building in the country.

In a phone interview from the Netherlands, Blanchet said that OMA, founded in 1975, has been eager to expand its presence in France for more than two decades and hopes to one day open an office in Paris. The Bibliothèque Multimédia à Vocation Régionale (BMVR) is a “very important step,” toward that goal, says Blanchet, who works out of OMA’s Rotterdam office and is in charge of all of the firm’s projects in French-speaking countries. (OMA’s other projects in France include two built private houses in Paris and Bordeaux, and Euralille (1994), a business and civic center.)

Caen’s new library will replace a smaller, older library on the Bassin Saint-Pierre, a marina on the canal that leads to the English Channel. In designing the library, OMA had to respond to a complicated program and a limited floor plan. Resembling an “X,” the 12,700-square-meter, four-story library is designed as two intersecting axes. Each of the four planes houses a discipline – human sciences, science and technology, literature, and arts – and points to four landmarks in Caen (the Abbaye-aux-Dames in the north, the central train station to the south, the Abbaye-aux-Hommes in the east, and an area of new construction in the west). Two reading rooms exist where the axes cross. “By intersecting two axes, you create a gradual transition from shared public space to more intimate space,” says Blanchet.

The building is also a link between the waterfront, a park, and a pedestrian pathway, says Blanchet. According to the firm, the library will meet the Haute Qualité Environnementale, a standard for sustainable building in France. Sustainable features include a seawater heat pump, natural light and ventilation, and the thermal performance of the building envelope, says Blanchet.

BMVR is expected to open by May 2015. OMA proposed designs for three other libraries in France in 1980s and ‘90s. Its Seattle Central Library, completed in 2004, received acclaim for the way it elevated the importance of social interaction, among other innovations and bold design. The firm’s design for the Education City Central Library in Qatar is in progress.