A Machine for Reading In: BARCODE Architects and OMA’s Latest Library Connects Old and New in Caen, France

Last week, OMA brought another game-changing civic structure into the world with the Bibliothèque Alexis de Tocqueville in Caen, France.

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

Last week, OMA, in collaboration with BARCODE Architects, brought another game-changing civic structure into the world, this time in the metropolitan region of Caen la mer in Normandy, France. The Bibliothèque Alexis de Tocqueville is a new 12,500-square-meter [135,000-square-foot] multimedia library set to quickly become a new public center for the city.


Photograph by Philippe Ruault, courtesy of OMA

The library was constructed in a cross-shaped design with each of the cross’s four protruding planes pointing to a landmark in Caen — the Abbaye-aux-Dames in the north, the Abbaye-aux-Hommes in the west, the central train station in the south and a new highly anticipated redevelopment in the east.

The project sits at the tip of the peninsula that extends from the city to the English Channel, part of the Presqu’île de Caen. OMA partner Chris van Duijn said the building’s central location between the old city and the new demonstrates its deep investment in the future of Caen.

“This completion marks the beginning of a larger transformation within Caen,” said van Duijn. “The library pivots from the historical center to the new urban master plan, stretching from city to sea.”


Photograph by Philippe Ruault, courtesy of OMA

The structure’s floor-to-ceiling load-bearing glass façade visually connects outside visitors to the transparent, light-filled interior and allows the library’s four different sectors, each housing a respective educational discipline, to cross smoothly in the central reading room located on the first floor.

One feature characteristic of OMA library designs is the emphasis on the library’s ability to adapt to the changes of the digital age. Bibliothèque Alexis de Tocqueville offers space to both print and digital media by housing 120,000 digital documents as an extension of the physical collection on the bookshelves.

© Paolo Delfino Architetto

© Paolo Delfino Architetto


Photograph by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA

The space also brings together an adjacent park, pedestrian pathway and waterfront plaza. The library’s upper floor features an urban belvedere that provides unobstructed views of the city from all angles. The project also includes a 150-seat auditorium, exhibition space and restaurant with an outdoor terrace.

Bibliothèque Alexis de Tocqueville marks the start of several new projects for OMA in France. In mid- to late-2017, expect the completion of the university campus Lab City in Paris Saclay and a new home in Le Marais for the Fondation d’Entreprise Galeries Lafayette.

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