An Analytical Comparison of Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and Washington National Airport

This study of Henri Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and César Pelli's Washington National Airport was completed to analyze the use of traditional precedent in a modern structure. Set among dramatically different urban contexts and designed for vastly different scales, there is seemingly little to compare at first glance; however, one look at the lightweight paired-arch truss system employed in both buildings makes the reference undeniable. From his formal education, Pelli learned the expression of modern construction techniques, and from his apprenticeship with Eero Saarinen, he gained an appreciation for design informed by history. Much like a library, Pelli believed that the airport is a place where people spend time and, thus, should be an "oasis of tranquility" amid a whole world of information. The solidity of Labrouste's reading room speaks to the nature of information in a library, housed within, whereas the transparency of Pelli's airport suggests that the information is awaiting in the world beyond accessed by flight. The historic building type at the heart of each structure, the stoa, indicates the public nature of each function, but a study of spatial hierarchy reveals diverging circulation patterns of the dual-level spaces. In comparing the two side-by-side, it is clear that the adaptable nature of traditional forms lends itself to the assembly of modern buildings without limiting the progress of structural systems or the evolution of building functions.

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