Chirac inaugurates Mitterand's `folly'

 

PRESIDENT Jacques Chirac yesterday inaugurated France's new National Library, the most controversial of his predecessor Francois Mitterrand's public monuments, and the most costly.

Criticised for its immensity, the library has four towers - built in an L-shape to resemble open books. It is 20 storeys and 80 metres high and will have cost eight billion francs (£1 billion) by the time it is completed in mid 1998.

Mr Chirac, accompanied by Mr Mitterrand's family including his widow, Danielle, declared the library's public reading rooms open in a low-key ceremony at the monumental Left Bank site.

Mr Chirac, who served as Paris mayor before being elected president in May 1995, tried to block or delay construction of the complex during the early 1990s, library officials said.

Already nicknamed the TGB or "Tres Grande Bibliotheque" (Very Big Library), it will also cost a billion francs (£115 million) a year to run and will need a staff of 250 people. It is open to the public from Friday.

Mr Mitterrand launched the project for a vast new library in 1988.

It is to house 10 million volumes from the old library, in a 17th-century city centre palace, which will continue to store precious collections, manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps, sheet music, currency and medals.

From the disputed glass pyramid at the Louvre to the reviled bulk of the new opera house at the Bastille, whose facade tiles are already falling off, none of Mr Mitterrand's Parisian building projects has aroused as much argument abroad as well as at home as the library designed by a young architect, Mr Dominique Perrault. "French folly" was one of the milder epithets for his concept.

Almost 400 prominent French and foreign personalities signed a petition protesting that the architecture was "spectacularly bad".