On March 10, 1997, the Jury of the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture held their second and decisive meeting in Thessaloniki, The European Cultural Capital. On the basis of their recommendation, Marcelino Oreja, Member of the Commission Responsible for Cultural Affairs named the French National Library, in Paris, by Dominique Perrault as the winner of the fifth Award.
The panel based its decision fundamentally on the important contribution the building makes to the urbanscape of a major city and appreciated in particular the new urban condition that it creates. As the first large public monument on the Left Bank of the Seine in the east of Paris, it offers a vast esplanade of a new type, that simultaneously takes up and renews the Parisian tradition of the grands espaces that open on the river such as: the Invalides, place de la Concorde, Champ-de-Mars and so on. At the same time, it provides a new front to the 13th arrondissement linking it to the river, where its extension will bridge over the railway tracks that separate it.
The four towers become reference points in the Parisian cityscape; they propose another urban scale for a public monument, joining the repertoire of the other existing vertical monuments.
The panel recognized the capacity of the architecture to operate on different scales and to articulate them individually, without losing its coherence or its power. From this point of view, the choice of materials, deliberately limited in number and innovations concerning their use, contributes to the intelligibility of a programme of great complexity.
Furthermore, the panel was impressed by the beauty of the idea of the library as a laboratory of intellectual achievement and research, contrasting with and encircling a primordial forest, the heart and point of internal reference for its entire organization. Finally, the panel salutes the success in the realization of a project of this magnitude in such a short period of time from concept to completion and the architectural choices made, capable of resisting the imponderable vicissitudes of a changing programme; a realization that proved the need of common goals between client and architecture.
In the first meeting in Barcelona on January 20-21, 1997, the Jury initially considered 127 projects submitted by the Experts from which they first selected 36 finalists for their respective merits. Out of these, a shortlist of prospective candidates for the Award was arrived at after extensive deliberation. The shortlisted projects were visited by the panel and are commended by the Jury for their excellence and high level of achievement.
These projects are:
River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom, by David Chipperfield
European Archaeological Centre at Mont Beuvray, France, by Pierre-Louis Faloci
Aukrust Centre, Alvdal, Norway, by Sverre Fehn
French National Library, Paris, by Dominique Perrault (awarded project)
Thermal Baths, Vals, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor
However the Jury, after visiting the River and Rowing Museum, concluded that the construction was not sufficiently completed for them to be able to form a definitive opinion and to consider the project as a possible winner. Given that the intention of the prize is to support architectural quality, the decision was made that this building would be considered as a proposal for the next convocation of the Award to be held in 1998.
See more information about the 1996 winners & finalists (Mies Arch database)