Day 77/365 of Steel – Henri Labrouste

Henri Labrouste (d. 24 june 1870)

Today we return to the days when steel had not yet made its breakthrough and classicist architects were still mainly using stone as primary building material. Labrouste sought a redefinition of architecture by introducing new materials and new building technologies.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Salle Labrouste, Paris
Fig 1: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Salle Labrouste, Paris
© Ludwig Fabre, INHA 2018.

In 2013, the MoMa dedicated an exhibition to Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light, the first solo exhibition of Labrouste’s work in the US. It establishes his work as a milestone in the modern evolution of architecture. Labrouste made an invaluable impact on 19th-century architecture through his exploration of new paradigms of space, materials, and luminosity in places of great public assembly.

Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris
Fig 2: Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris
(Credit: Sainte-Genevieve Library/Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons)

His two magisterial glass-and-iron reading rooms in Paris, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1838–50) and the Bibliothèque nationale (1859–75), gave form to the idea of the modern library as a temple of knowledge and as a space for contemplation. His spaces are at once overwhelming in the daring modernity of their exposed metal frameworks, lightweight walls, and brightness, and immersive in their timelessness.

Salle Labrouste INHA
Fig 3: Salle Labrouste INHA
Credit: Adelphilos

Labrouste’s two libraries offer a completely new vision of architecture, of its language and construction, echoing the aspirations of his day. The structure and light of their inner spaces make those buildings not simple shelters but true worlds into which librarygoers are plunged. The two reading rooms, which are among the most beautiful spaces in Paris, are the source of Henri Labrouste’s fame as an architect.

Their powerful expressiveness, the rational solutions that the architect implemented in response to the complex programs entrusted to him, the haunting and strange refinement of their ornaments, and, above all, the importance given to new materials—particularly cast iron, magnified by a subtle play with light—have from the beginning provoked universal admiration. More than a simple precursor to modernity, Labrouste was an ingenious figure of his times.

(source: ‘Labrouste: Structure brought to light’ by Corinne Bélier, Barry Bergdoll and Marc Le Coeur)

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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