With four glass towers shaped like half-open books, the National Library of France, opened in 1995, was one of President Mitterand’s most ambitious and costliest grands projets. Some 12 million tomes are stored on 420km of shelves and the library can accommodate 2000 readers and 2000 researchers. Excellent temporary exhibitions (entrance E) revolve around ‘the word’ – from storytelling to bookbinding and French heroes. Exhibition admission includes free same-day access to the reference library.

No expense was spared to carry out the library’s grand design, which many claimed defied logic. Books and historical documents are shelved in the sunny, 23-storey and 79m-high towers, while patrons sit in artificially lit basement halls built around a ‘forest courtyard’ of 140 50-year-old pines, trucked in from the countryside. The towers have since been fitted with a complex (and expensive) shutter system, but the basement is prone to flooding from the Seine.