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10 beautiful libraries by architectural photographer Thibaud Poirier

Over the past few decades, French photographer Thibaud Poirier has assembled an extraordinary series of images of the world’s most beautiful libraries. He speaks to Effect about capturing their power and awe.

There is something almost transcendental about seeing a building through the lens of a skilled architectural photographer, as if glimpsing its soul through the mind’s eye of its architect, stripped of its daily penumbra and chaos. And there are few architectural photographers more skilled than Thibaud Poirier.

While the span of Poirier’s work is broad, it’s his ability to capture scale and a sense of awe that sets him apart, particularly when chronicling Modernist architecture and public spaces such as libraries and churches.

1. Bibliotheque de l’Assemblee Nationale, Paris, 1796

The Bibliotheque de l’Assemblee Nationale in Paris, completed in 1796, is the library of one of the two houses of the French Parliament, built in a former courtyard and garden of the Bourbon Palace. The ceiling paintings are by Eugène Delacroix. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

His libraries, in particular, offer up their beauty through Poirier’s mastery of symmetry – a potent tool that unlocks the power of a building and that is often difficult to see with the naked eye. “Symmetry holds a profound power over the viewer, evoking a sense of order, balance, and harmony. It creates visual stability that draws the eye into the composition, instilling a sense of calm and equilibrium,” says Poirier. “In my library and church series, I aimed to showcase these spaces uniformly, using a central viewpoint and selecting buildings with symmetrical attributes to enhance their inherent beauty and create a powerful, cohesive narrative.”

2. Grimm Zentrum Library, Berlin, 2009

Built in 2009, the Grimm Zentrum Library houses 2.5 million items and is created as a central space that enables decentralised zones, with the ability to see out of or through the building from almost any point within it. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

And while the libraries captured by Poirier differ widely, from the Baroque splendour of Portugal’s Biblioteca Joanina to the almost clinical minimalism of City Library in Stuttgart, they all suggest a reverence of books and ideas. “Each library is a testament to the cultural and historical context in which it was built, reflecting the aesthetic and intellectual values of its time,” Poirier says. “However, beyond their visual differences, they all embody the same purpose: to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next. This is evident in their carefully designed spaces, which are tailored to foster learning and contemplation.”

Symmetry holds a profound power over the viewer, evoking a sense of order, balance, and harmony.

Thibaud Poirier

Poirier adds: “The sensory experiences within these libraries—such as the smell of old books, the unique acoustics, and the thoughtful lighting—create a familiar atmosphere of respect and wonder, regardless of the library’s architectural style.”

3. Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra, 1728

The stunningly Baroque Biblioteca Joanina in the University of Coimbra, Portugal, is widely considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Construction began in 1717, during the reign of King John V of Portugal and amid the onset of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

Poirier’s library images are some of the most extraordinary we have seen, and it’s clear that libraries possess certain attributes that makes them especially compelling subjects.

“It is because they are rich with history, architecture, and the promise of knowledge,” Poirier explains. “As repositories of countless stories and ideas, they possess a unique aura that invites exploration and contemplation, making them timeless and captivating, even in this digital age.” 

And when asked which of the many libraries he’s recorded affected him most deeply, he says: “I would have to say the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. Architecturally, it’s one of my favourites and was the first library I photographed. Its beauty and historical significance left a lasting impression. The mix of stone, cast iron, and wood gives it a noble yet industrial feel, embodying the spirit of the mid-19th century.”

4. Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1850

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris – one of Poirier’s favourites – is a university library completed in 1850, with an innovative iron roof frame, and designed by architect Henri Labrouste. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

There’s a curious mixture of stillness and drama in Poirier’s work, not unlike theatres or cathedrals moments before the performance begins; and Poirier skilfully captures that sense of higher ideas and awe. “My focus lies in telling a compelling story through composition, lighting, and perspective,” he says. “In my work, architecture serves as more than just a backdrop; it becomes the protagonist, conveying deeper truths about society and the human condition. Each photograph aims to capture the soul of the space, reflecting its physical, emotional, and conceptual significance.

“By thoughtfully composing my shots and playing with light, I strive to evoke a sense of wonder and contemplation.”

5. Bibliothèque de l’Hotel de Ville de Paris, Paris, 1890

The l’Hotel de Ville library in Paris is a hidden gem within Paris’s City Hall, and specialising in the political, economic and social history of France. It is not open to tourists – a residence card is required alongside a reason for needing to visit. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

6. Stadtbibliothek, Stuttgart, 2011

An immersive cube-like structure with a minimalist, light-filled interior, the Stadtbibliothek is the public library of Stuttgart in Germany, designed by architect Eun Young Yi. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

“As repositories of countless stories and ideas, they possess a unique aura that invites exploration and contemplation.

Thibaud Poirier

Galerie Diane, Fontainebleau, 1605–1826

The longest room in Fontainebleau and rebuilt under Napoleon I, Galerie Diane was created initially as a ballroom, but used as a library since Napoleon III. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

Bibliothèque du CRDM, Paris, 1930

Designed by architect Guillaume Tronchet and completed in 1930, Bibliothèque du CRDM in Paris is a wonderful period piece, with perfectly preserved geometric motifs and Art Deco detailing. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Salle Labrouste, Paris, 1868

Designed by the architect Henri Labrouste, the Salle Labrouste (reading room) of the former National Library of France is a grand cast-iron marvel of hovering domes and lattice-work. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

Trinity College Library, Dublin, 1732

A masterpiece by Thomas Burgh, the Library of Trinity College Dublin is Ireland’s copyright library (publishers in Ireland must deposit copies of all their publications there), and it is the home to national treasures such as the Brian Boru harp, Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and the Book of Kells. (Photo: Thibaud Poirier)

Read more:  Interiors | Design | Pro Q&A | France | Photography | Thibaud Poirier