• Architecture for Reading in Public: Henri Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève
    Neil Levine
    Yale University Press, 2025
    Neil Levine

“View of Henri Labrouste’s, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, reading room, designed and built 1838-50,” Paris, 2009. Digital photograph. Photo: Nabil Boutros

Although the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève—designed by architect Henri Labrouste and built between 1838–50 in Paris—has always been considered a major forerunner of modern architecture, this is the first book-length study devoted to it. Based on years of research, it discusses the significance of the program, site, prehistory, and building process before describing and analyzing Labrouste’s adoption of the radical idea of decorating construction in opposition to the classical model of constructing decoration. This offered an entirely new way of conceiving architectural form based on the modern concept of functional expression. Linked to this rejection of the privileges afforded to preconceived classical decorative forms by the conventional architecture of the time, the library provides a new type of democratic spatial organization and decorative elaboration appropriate to the new reading public. The Revolution of 1848 is seen to have left a direct imprint on the library, both inside and out, thereby adding a significant new dimension to the building’s understanding.

Having earned his PhD at Yale University, Neil Levine is the Emmet Blakeney Gleason Professor of History of Art and Architecture emeritus at Harvard University. Since retiring in 2014, he published The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton University Press, 2016), Wright's Jacobs Houses: Experiments in Modern Living (OA+D Archives, 2022), and coedited Rethinking Frank Lloyd Wright: History, Reception, Preservation (University of Virginia Press, 2023). His main project has been the Architecture for Reading in Public: Henri Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève (Yale University Press, expected 2025). He has published widely on eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century architecture, including Modern Architecture: Representation and Reality (Yale University Press, 2010) and The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton University Press, 1996). A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2010, he won the Gold Medal in the History of Art of the French Académie d'Architecture (2018).